Daria Eshwari-Chaitanya Woodside, Baton Rouge LA
‘Your mother is your first Guru, but you have to tie yourself to your true Guru. You have to be with Sri Swamiji, what are you going to hold on to?’
I met His Holiness Sri Sri Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji for the first time in August, 1988. But before I ever met Him, I had an experience that foreshadowed that fateful day. At least twelve years earlier, when I was only about twenty-four, I was out partying with some friends. At about 2.30 am, we decided to play in the fountain at the apartment complex. While we were splashing around having fun, we heard Indian music coming from one of the apartments through an open window. Suddenly, we saw a short Indian man walking towards us and I was sure he was going to complain about our behavior, but instead, he walked up to me and said, “Madam I have a message for you, I was listening to my bhajans and looking at my Guru’s picture and He told me to tell you that one day this music will be important to you.” He left and we all laughed it away, but something inside me knew that it was true.
Although this event was forgotten by my friends, it stuck in my mind, and I knew in my heart that if I ever went to India, my whole life would change. Twelve years later that change came in the most unexpected of places.
In 1987, I graduated from Slippery Rock University with a degree in Journalism. I graduated in December and it was a cold and very snowy winter. I didn’t have a job, and because Slippery Rock is a very rural area, there were few opportunities for employment. So, I decided to move to Pittsburgh where I had a better chance to use my degree. However, that wasn’t my destiny. Sadly, I was preparing to leave an area I loved. But instead, I had a very powerful dream in which someone came to me and told me that I shouldn’t move away because something really important was coming into my life in August and I must not miss it. I was also told to read the Upanishads. The dream was so powerful that I decided not to leave even though I didn’t have a job. I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive, but shortly after the dream, my landlord told me he didn’t want me to move so he reduced my rent to $100 a month and I found a part time job as a journalist.
On the first day of my new job, I realized that I would be reporting on a nearby county, the one where the Datta Retreat Center is now located, although there was nothing but forest there at this point. As part of my orientation, a fellow journalist gave me a tour of the area. All I saw were cows and cornfields and I thought to myself, “what I can I possibly write about here?”
For the first three months, I attended some small Borough Council meetings and tried to make it interesting for my readers. I was happy I was earning money. In July, my editor called me and said that she wanted me to check out a Yoga Center opening in West Sunbury. She gave me a contact phone number. I called the number and someone told me that therewasno Yoga Center there, but thattheir Guru wasvisiting from India and He would be doing a concert in Pittsburgh. Although I was offered free tickets to the concert, I refused, since I was not allowed to accept perks in my position.
I called my editor and told her what had happened and she said, “Gurus come and go, we don’t need that story.” As I hung up the phone, I thought “Gurus might come and go, but not in West Sunbury.” So I decided to write the story anyway, even if my editor didn’t want it. I called the contact number once again and told the woman on the phone that I wanted to interview their Guru. She insisted that He didn’t do interviews, but I persisted, and after three requests, she finally approached Sri Swamiji and He agreed to see me and said I should be there in fifteen minutes.
After getting lost many times I got there in forty-five minutes. When I arrived, I saw a tiny camper trailer and as I approached it, the door opened and out walked Sri Swamiji wearing bright canary yellow clothes. He was accompanied by two men, Agastya and Swami Manasa Datta. The Guru came and we sat down and I began interviewing Him. I asked questions from a reporter’s perspective, and He gave the answers. Then all of a sudden He said, “You know, you and I lived here together as red Indians in a past life.” I could only answer, “Oh.”
Being a good reporter, I stayed focused, and continued asking Him about His mission in America. He interrupted me again and said, “You are going to come to India one day.” I tried focusing on my questioning and He got up, went into the trailer, got a photograph and showed it to me.Itwas a picture of Him inside a fire pit. He explained the photo to me saying, “See, look, this is in India.” He went back in the trailer and bought out another picture. It was a picture of Jesus, the kind that when you moved it his eyes opened and closed. He moved it, blinking the eyes for me to see and said. “I went to Niagara Falls and got this there.”
I was charmed and at this point didn’t really know what to say to him as I watched Jesus blinking at me in His hands. I pulled my thoughts together and asked, “How do you see yourself?” He simply smiled and said, “I am very happy, very happy.” As He was leaving He said to me, “Come for the Kriya Yoga class, this is the reason why I came here, I came for you.” I told Him I could not afford the class and so He insisted that I attend for free. The next morning, my editor placed the story on the front page of the paper with a picture of Swamiji. It reminded me of the dream I had that previous January. I had found something very important, I found my Guru, Sri Ganapaty Sachchidananda Swamiji.
After completing the week long Kriya Yoga Course, I knew that I could not leave Him. I was a little scared about the whole Guru concept for I did not know anything about it. All I knew of were the Hare Krishna devotees chanting on the streets, selling carnations. I told a friend of mine that I was staying with Sri Swamiji, but I would not be selling carnations on the streets. My friend laughed and assured me that Sri Swamiji was not like that.
In 1990, Sri Swamiji returned to Pittsburgh and He told me, “It will seem difficult; like you lost your whole life, but I am going to give you a new life, I have chosen you to help me with my work.” After He left, I became involved with the activitiesat DRC and got hired as a college professor at Slippery Rock University. Two years passed, and I was renting a beautiful house with a pond on ninety acres of land. I reunited with someone to whom I had been engaged and we were considering marriage; my life was in a comfortable spot. Then one day it all disappeared, my landlord passed away and the property went up for sale, and my fiancée died of a heart attack. My position at my job was dissolved. Suddenly everything Sri Swamiji said would happen was coming true, my life emptied in order to be filled with what my Guru desired.
In 1992, I moved to another part of Pennsylvania and I got another teaching post. My new job gave me the financial help I needed to visit Sri Swamiji in India. While I was in India, He said that I should learn to perform homa and I did. The following summer, Sri Swamiji came to my home, where I performed homa for Him and He took my prasad, giving me His official permission to do homas.
That same summer, while we were at Datta Retreat Center, I was taking care of washing Sri Swamiji’s Sri Chakra puja dishes. I was sitting outside the Datta Temple in the forest washing them in a bucket when Sri Swamiji approached me and said, “Daria will be a forest rishi and Sannyasi.” I replied, “No, Swamiji.” And he answered “We will see,” and He walked away. Later in the day He came and said “Let’s go for a walk.”
In those days there were not many devotees at DRC and so we often had the opportunity to take walks with Him. As we were walking He asked me, “You don’t want Sannyasi?” I told Him, “No, Swamiji, I would like to be married.” He said, “If you finish your PhD I will marry you to a great man.” I agreed. Even though I had a straight 4.0 average in graduate school and completed my comprehensives, no matter what I did in the coming years, I couldn’t quite get that dissertation completed to finish my PhD. He had other plans for me.
That same year, 1993, I was one of thirty college professors worldwide who were chosen to go to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Institute in Jerusalem, Israel to become a Holocaust educator. I spent the whole summer in Israel doing a lot of prayer. While I was there, Lebanon made an offensive against Israel and there was constant shelling and terrorist attacks. Riding the bus each day was a risk, and once I didn’t get on a bus because I saw a fellow passenger had a gun. That same bus was hijacked the next morning. I left in another bus late at night because two men with rifles got into an argument in the back of the bus. While I was at the church of the Nativity with my hands on the stone where they say Christ was born, I heard death threats being made against Americans and broadcast from the Mosque next door. There was so much tension that we had to ride out of Bethlehem with our heads down on the seats of the taxi so we wouldn’t be seen. When I returned to the USA and met Sri Swamiji, I told Him about my experiences there and He said, “Yes, I know, it is a sign of the Kali Yuga that holy places are like this now. I sent you there; you were my representative to be there at that time, praying.”
A few weeks after I returned from Israel, I went to visit the Datta Retreat. While I was there, Sri Swamiji called and when He learned that I was there He passed along the message that it was time for me to get another new life. Shortly after that, I learned that our college was in financial trouble and I was laid off from my teaching job. It was time to move again for my Guru.
I moved to Central Pennsylvania to a house on top of a mountain. The closest town was eighteen miles away. I was isolated, but I got another teaching post within a week. I had a large piece of property, and in meditation it came to me one day that I should build a Yantra garden. That year, I saw Sri Swamiji in Baton Rouge, and he confirmed that the garden was to be a twenty-one foot Sri Gayatri Yantra on top of the mountain. In the place of the Bindu, I built an eight-sided gazebo where I would sit to meditate. I sent a list of the trees and plants to Him and I planted everything according to His approval. When it wascompleted, I took pictures and showed them to Him. He put His finger on the Gazebo (Bindu) and said, “Now I put my Shakti there.” I spent five years there, doing Homas according to Sri Swamiji’s command. I used to sing bhjans to the plants and trees each evening as I watered the garden, and I meditated and practiced my Kriya Yoga there. While I lived on the mountain, I took a course in Critical Incident Stress Management and began working as a counselor to police officers, fireman and EMTs, when called upon, following disastrous events as a volunteer.
During this time, Sri Swamiji sent a message for me to work with Dr. Lewis Mehn-Madrona, who was practicing alternative medicine in Pittsburgh, and had published the book, Coyote Medicine. I went to him as a patient, and much to my surprise, during that first visit, Lewis asked me if I wanted to work with him. I said I did. I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen since I was still teaching full time, but Sri Swamiji had already seen my future. At the time, I wanted to go to India to release the book ‘Life of a Mystic’ which I had edited, and later to also visit a dying friend in Chennai. I asked permission for leave and was told that I shouldn’t go but stay and complete my PhD comprehensives. If I went to India, I would lose my job. I decided to be with Sri Swamiji and my dying friend. When I came back from India, I completed my final teaching contract and began to work for Lewis.
By 1999, I had spent five years living on that mountain. In the meantime, Dr. Lewis got another post at a hospital in New York City and I became jobless yet again. It was time to move once more. Just at the time that I had lost my job, a group of young men went wild in the countryside; they tried to burn down the local grocery store, smashed car windows and then they went to the Gayatri Yantra garden and destroyed it. They ripped the Yantra apart and burnt it. When I discovered this, although I was sad,
I asked Sri Swamiji what was He was teaching me through all this. In my meditation He answered saying, “Yes, the lesson is Creation, Preservation and Destruction. You created it, you preserved it, you gave it to me and I destroyed it.” When I heard this I felt better and realized that if it were not destroyed I would not have moved away, because I would have had to stayed and care for it as long as it existed.
I decided to go to Philadelphia; I found a part-time job at a Holistic medicine clinic and a part-time teaching job. I enquired about a lovely stone house with a creek nearby. While I was waiting to see if I could rent the house, a friend took me to see Karunamayi. In her program she answers written questions from the audience. I wrote on a piece of paper, ‘Will I get the nice stone house?’ When I went before Her, She looked at me and said disgustedly, “Your Swamiji will take care of this.” Sri Swamiji came around this time and He visited DRC in Pittsburgh. I went and sat beside Him and Dr. Prakash Rao. He began talking to Dr. Rao saying, “Daria has two job offers, one in Philadelphia and one in New York.”
I immediately interrupted Him and said, “No Swamiji, I have only one job offer in Philadelphia, I am not going to New York.” Sri Swamiji said to Dr. Rao. “Hmmmn, I think she is going to New York.” I did not say anything. I went to my hotel after the program and I found a note on my door, which read, ‘Sorry, but the stone house is not available.’ I told myself,” He wants me to go to New York and He will have His way.”
I went to Sri Swamiji’s program the next day and I said nothing to Him about moving to New York. He was going to New Jersey and I followed Him there. Part of His program was a visit to a temple in Flushing, New York. I attended high school in Manhattan and I was familiar with some of the places. I was driving behind Sri Swamiji’s car and I realized that we were going to an area I used to visit. I felt as if Sri Swamiji were bringing me home.
After Sri Swamiji program, since Lewis was already working in New York, I decided to go into the city for lunch with him. I went to his office in Manhattan and he left me in the office of a friend while he went to take care of some last minute business. While there I noticed a Ganapathy murti on his desk and it seemed to be saying to me, “Got you, got you.” By the time Lewis came back his friend had offered me a job that I couldn’t refuse. Sri Swamiji was right. I was going to be working in New York City. Instead of my lovely stone house on the creek in Philadelphia, I found a new home in New Jersey because I wanted to be close to the Datta devotees there.
I worked with Dr. Lewis for some time and then I began working at Princeton University as a faculty liaison in the bookstore. Then September 11th 2001 came, the historic day when the planes crashed into the twin towers. The night it happened the local police called me since I had my training in Critical Incident Stress Management. They took me to work with some police officers who had witnessed their fellow officers being killed. I also worked with some of the local hospitals to train the staff on how to deal with this situation. I even set up an emergency clinic and counseled some of the rescued victims who were trapped for days.
My Reiki students and I also performed Reiki healing on some of the victims. I was glad that I had something to offer at this critical moment in our country’s history. But more importantly, I realized how all knowing and loving our beloved Guru really is. On September 11th the airplane, United Airlines Flight number 93 that took off from Newark and was heading for San Francisco, crashed into the mountains of Pennsylvania. The site of the crash was near where I had built the Sri Gayatri Yantra. The plane crashed into the middle of a triangle that was formed by the Bindu of my garden whose imprint had been burned into the ground, a nearby spiritual center where I had frequently performed homas and another Transcendental Meditation Center whose owner had been blessed with Sri Swamiji’s personal seat for his own practice. The plane had to have started its descent over the Yantra to fall in the middle of the triangle. There were four hijackers on board, who knows where they were taking the plane. Sri Swamiji protected this country from a disaster which could have been worse than what had happened. When I realized where the plane had crashed and that He allowed me to be working with the first responders to the Towers, this was the day my life became completely surrendered to Sri Swamiji.
In April of 2002, I went to Trinidad to have the darsan of Sri Swamiji. I took some gifts from Princeton for Him and He told me to quit my job. While I was walking out of the room He asked me if I were coming to Baton Rouge to meet Him that summer. I told Him, yes! He said, “Do not to come to Baton Rouge, but come to Augusta during the summer instead.” I came back to the University and instead of immediately resigning from my post as Swamiji had said, I gave my boss a sixty day notice. After I handed in my resignation, my boss made my life miserable and I thought that I should have listened to Sri Swamiji and just quit. I them gave them a seven day notice and left not knowing how I was going to pay my bills.
Summer came and I joined Sri Swamiji in Augusta Georgia. It was a very quiet and relaxing time with Him. On the last day of the visit I was sitting in the back yard and Prasadi came to me and said, “Daria, Swamiji said to get out of New Jersey as quickly as possible.” I said, “OK!” The next day at the Augusta airport I was sitting at His feet and I told Him what Prasadi had said, He looked at me and said, “Yes, I told Him to tell you.” I said, “Whatever you want me to do and wherever you want me to go, I will do as you say Swamiji.” He looked at me and said, “No, Datta will tell, something is coming in the mail.” By now, I had learned that I should not question Sri Swamiji and just surrender to His will.
I flew back home and when I got there, late in the night; I got a letter from the Baton Rouge Community College asking me to appear for an interview. I had applied there five years earlier, when I had to leave the mountain retreat. I thought that this was a good sign, but inadvertently the interview date had passed. The next morning, I went with some of the New Jersey devotees to Washington DC for His program. When I met Sri Swamiji, I told Him, “Swamiji I know where I am going next, I am going to the Baton Rouge temple.” He said, “No, not the temple, you are going to do Baton Rouge Seva.” I became all excited and said, “Yes Swamiji I will go and do Seva in the temple.” He then said, “NO! not Datta Temple, you are going to do Seva in Baton Rouge.” I began to speak again and He cut me off saying for a third time, that I was coming for the city and not the temple. For whatever reason I had to be there, I knew I had to move to Baton Rouge.
In September, 2002, I moved to Baton Rouge LA without a job. Two weeks later, a major tropical storm, Isadore, hit. And a week later, Hurricane Lily crashed onto Louisiana shores. On the television, I saw that FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency was hiring. I went to their office and got hired on the spot. For six months, I worked there and then returned to teaching. But, I was able to continue my disaster seva in the years to come with Hurricane Katrina, Rita, Gustav and the Gulf Oil Spill. I have always been grateful to Sri Swamiji for placing me in Baton Rouge to do seva during these monumental disasters.
In 2004, I got a message from Him to stop doing Homas, Poojas and my Sadhana. I stopped as He requested and then I realized that this was my life and how much it really meant to me. Then later, after nearly one year, He sent another message for me to continue where I left off performing Homas, Poojas and my Sadhana.
Around this time, a close friend asked me what a Sannyasi was. I did my best to explain it to her and she said to me, “You are that, you are doing everything like a Sannyasi, why don’t you become one.” I had been resisting this decision with Sri Swamiji for years. He had told me that if I had finished my PhD He allow me to marry, but no matter how hard I had tried, that did not happen, for every time I tried I could not succeed. I thought that now I was ready to accept this from Him so I wrote saying, “I am ready.” He wrote back and said,” We will discuss it when Sri Swamiji visits in the summer,”
In early 2005, I was planning a trip to visit Assisi in Italy for the summer. Then Sri Bala Swamiji made a surprise visit to the Datta Temple in Baton Rouge. Even though I had seen Him many years earlier in the ashram as a little boy, Prasadi introduced Him and Bala Swami said to me, “Sri Swamiji said to be in Baton Rouge andPittsburgh when He visits, for He is bringing very powerful energy to America this trip.” He told me with such urgency that I did not question anything. I immediately cancelled my trip to Italy.
In May, 2005, my mother developed rapidly spreading breast cancer and since I have no other family I had to fly to Pennsylvania to be with her. July came and Sri Swamiji came to Baton Rouge. I could not leave my mother so I sent a message to Prasadi to inform Sri Swamiji that I was with my dying mother. I sat with her and prayed. I had this battle in my head going on. ‘Your mother is your first Guru, but you have to tie yourself to your true Guru. You have to be with Sri Swamiji, what are you going to hold on to?’ I came to a decision and for three days I left Pennsylvania and came to see Sri Swamiji in Baton Rouge.
When I reached the temple, He was inaugurating the new Guru Nilayam and the milk had just boiled and overflowed on the stove and everyone cheered. He looked at me and said, “Ah good! you made it.” We spoke later that day and He told me that I should come to India for Shivaratri to do the initiation. He also told me to start wearing orange clothes immediately and see how I felt. The first day I donned the orange clothes I flew to Pennsylvania to see my mother and she passed away shortly after I arrived. My new life as a sannyasi began with her death.
I stayed in Pennsylvania for ten days taking care of the legal matters with the house etc. I realized that now I had not living relatives and that Swamiji was now my only family, so I read the Guru Charitra and looked forward to seeing Sri Swamiji when He arrived in Pennsylvania. When I saw Him at DRC, He asked me for a picture of my mother and father. I took the photos to Him and He said that He would do the funeral rites for my mother. He touched every part of my body and said, “Now, you are completely mine.”
I made all the travel arrangements to go to India for Shivaratri in 2006. On December 31st 2005, I got an email from Prasadi saying, “Sri Swamiji said to take the orange clothes off, but still come for Shivaratri, we will see what will happen.” I thought that I had done something wrong, although I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I did not question Him, I stopped wearing the orange clothes. I went to India in January, 2006, when I got to the ashram Sri Swamiji told me, “Go and have fun and do what you want.” I did not know what to think. I guess He wanted me to really be sure if this waswhat I wanted. After about three weeks I walked up in the line to have His darshan and He said to me, “Go have your clothes made, it is time.”
In 2006, I received my initiation from Sri Swamiji to become a Sannyasi. He gave me the name, Eshwari Chaitanya. When I look back at my life and how the events unfolded I am speechless. I realized that even though He had taken away my home, taken away the person I loved, taken away every job that I have ever had, He blocked me from finishing my PHD, and He had forbidden me from getting married or having children, that these things were a worthy sacrifice for me to serve Him in this way. I realize how much He loves us and how much He will use us if we allow Him to. Jaya Guru Datta