Remembering Swami Yogeshananda

Swami Yogeshananda
Swami Yogeshananda 1923–2021

Our much-beloved Swami left the body on Saturday morning, February 13th, 10 days after his 98th birthday. Surrounded by the near and dear in his room at the Trabuco Monastery in Southern California, his transition was peaceful and uneventful.

Swami Yogeshananda founded The Eternal Quest when he settled here in the early 1990s. The organization became the Vedanta Center of Atlanta in 1999, when his congregation moved to Tucker, a suburb of Atlanta.

This page is a collection of memories of the Swami shared with us in words and photographs. 

My Shraddanjali to Swami Yogeshanandaji: 
One who led me onto the path of Eternal Quest

Uma Majmudar

Pujya “Swamiji,” (as I used to call you), the very idea that you will not be around here anymore with us pains me a great deal. I find it unbearable that even that occasional chance to visit you at Trabuco Center is gone; gone also is that chance of running toward you like a child to hug you, and to listen to your learned discourses sprinkled with that special brand of “Yogeshananda humor”! But where else do we turn but to the Bhagavad Gita to find solace in these immortal lines of Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (Ch. 2:22), “As a man discards worn-out clothes to put on new and different ones, so the embodied self discards the worn-out bodies to take on other new ones.” To put it in practical terms, what is inevitable must be accepted; what needs to be cherished are those unerasable memories of the dear departed soul, and the timeless lessons that Swamiji taught to be able to continue on the path of Eternal Quest.

So many sweet memories flood the mind beginning with my first “darshan” or the “holy sight” of Swami Y in the late 80s, followed by my listening to his first discourse at a devotee’s house on Chamblee Tucker Road. For some old-timers like us including Swarna, her late husband Deepak Shah, Pranab Lahiri, (late) Dr. Mitra and others, his coming to us was like finding a spiritual anchor—a path-finder, a true Vedanta Swami! He too felt at home with us and in those early years when after moving from place to place, he finally found in 1990 a nice little house in Decatur, Atlanta—which he named, “Eternal Quest.” I was overjoyed to now have our own regular Vedanta Center under the tutelage of our Beloved “Swami Y.” Though few, we were, and still are, a solid group of deeply devoted disciples.

During the years 1990 through 2009, we were blessed to have our own “perky little” (or ‘petite’ by American standards), but highly energetic, disciplined and scholarly Swami Y who regularly conducted Sunday classes in addition to teaching evening classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At his feet we learned so many gems of Vedanta texts including, Shankaracharya’s “Atmabodh or Self-knowledge,” “The Cloud of unknowing,” “Vivekachudamani,” “The Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna,” “Tao-Te-Ching,” and selections from Swami Vivekananda’s books on Karma, Jnana, Raja yoga, etc.

Personally, what I enjoyed the most were our yearly Vedanta Retreats at “The Center for New Beginnings” in Dahlanooga, Georgia. Here, in this beautiful, secluded place surrounded by shady trees, a lake and a Church, the devotees would stay over a weekend in small but comfortable quarters and attend morning and evening sessions by Swamiji and by the invited guest Swami as well. Here we made deep bonds, here we exchanged ideas, had lively discussions, pujas and evening Arati at the Church. We also had some free time in the afternoon to take a walk around this serene place, to sit on a bench nearby the lake, to meditate or just gaze at the peacefully grazing cows or listening to the symphony of the birds atop the trees! Here, just like Henry David Thoreau at the “Walden Pond”—who said after reading the Bhagavad Gita that he felt as if “he had bathed into the holy waters of the Ganges,” we too felt refreshed after soaking into a “soul-bath” in the serene surroundings of this spiritually charged place.

And then there were some culinary delights as well, every afternoon and evening, when we partook of some simple but healthy, hot meals freshly cooked and served at the volunteer-run cafeteria. Here we became once again like school children—eating and laughing, sharing thoughts and making lifelong friendships and memories as well.

Well, our Dear Swamiji had a sweet tooth, too! How did I know it? Well, from having him occasionally for dinner with my family at home where he would eat but a little of everything but “gorge” on desserts! He not only loved cookies, cakes and pies, but also made the best and the tastiest pecan and chocolate-chip cookies in the world! He also enjoyed chatting lovingly with my daughters, especially my younger one—whom he teasingly called “sage Sangini!” Sangini too, (now a mother of two kids of her own) remembers him fondly as her first Yoga teacher when in the early 1990s, Swami Y used to conduct Yoga classes at his then residential apartments on Clairmont Road.

Dear Dear Swamiji, I will miss you! It’s so hard to say Farewell to you, but you will stay eternally in my heart and in my memories as my first beloved Vedanta teacher who initiated me onto the path of Eternal Quest! Pujya Swamiji, please accept my “shata shata pranams” as I would very fondly remember you and continue to travel on the path of Vedanta for as long as I live in this body, and thereafter—maybe, I meet with you somewhere, sometime, in the realm of “Eternal Rest!”

Swamiji with Uma and Bhagirath Majmudar
Swamiji with Uma and Bhagirath Majmudar

A swami, a biker, and a baker

Cyndi ‘Sarada’ Craven

One day, shortly after I’d moved into my house in Tucker, Georgia—less than half a mile from the Vedanta Center—there came a knock at my door. I opened it to see Swami standing there in his huge bicycle helmet, holding a still-warm loaf of banana bread he’d baked that morning.

“Swami!” I said with surprise and delight. He handed me the bread, and said, smiling, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” in an ironic tone, with his eyebrows raised. As if it were funny for a swami to be saying such a thing. I asked him to come in for some tea, but he held up his hand. “No,” he said, “I have some other stops to make. Another time. See you at arati!” Then he hopped on his bike and rode off down the street.

That was in 2004, and Swami was 81 years old. The fact that he had navigated his old bicycle over railroad tracks, with a bundle of banana breads, and across a highway to deliver a treat to his friend and new neighbor was fearless and sweet and maybe a little wild. But that’s just the way he was. Happy trails, dear Swami. You can take that helmet off now. 😉

Swami at music concert
Swami at an outdoor music concert (photo by Tom Watson)

Swami Yogeshananda – A Vignette

Rita Mathew, Athens GA

During our stay in Los Angeles in August 2018, Ranjit and I decided to visit Swami Y at the Trabuco Canyon Monastery. Swami Y welcomed us warmly.  The instant bond of minds and hearts can only be explained as made possible by providence.  During the course of our conversation, Swami Y exclaimed that London was the happiest time of his life! And so it was also for us, particularly since we were newlyweds then. London is a large metropolis, but coincidentally, during our time in London, Highgate Tube Station was “home base” for all three of us.  We would have stood at the same street corner in Highgate, at the intersection of Archway Road and Shepherd’s Hill – pursuing apparently separate paths – Swami Y, that of Vedanta; Ranjit and I, that of Nonviolence in the Mennonite Tradition.  But finally, when we did meet it felt like we had truly reached home. Nara, Narayana. God and man at table had sat down.

Highgate (London)
Highgate (London)
Trabuco Monastery. Swami Y and Katherine Durant
Swami with Katherine Durant (submitted by Gillian Renault)

I first met Swami Yogeshananda at the Stillwater Yoga studio where he gave a Sunday afternoon talk in 2002. I was very drawn to him in ways that weren’t clear to me at the time and it was another two years before I visited the Center. I went on an Easter Sunday. A young friend of Swami’s from the Candler School of Theology gave the talk. There were about 20 people there and I remember thinking that even though there was no choir, no triumphant music, nothing that was like a usual church Easter service, but it was the best Easter Sunday I had ever spent. So heartfelt, authentic, loving.

Swami taught me so much on the Vedanta path. He introduced me to interfaith dialogue in Atlanta. It is because of Swami’s teachings and influence that I changed my career from PR executive to hospice chaplain. He was not only my guru and spiritual teacher, he was a friend and like a second father to me. He was loving and generous enough to attend my jukai ceremony at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was the precepts ceremony that marked the end of my first year studying at the Center, in the chaplaincy program. He was already in his 90s. He flew in the night before, and I was surprised when he didn’t show up at the ceremony. It turns out he had such bad altitude sickness (the Center is at 7,000 feet) he was unable to get out of bed. My then partner Nina tended to him and he turned up for the lunch afterwards. He was determined to be there in some form. I loved him so much for that.

I used to love the interfaith chants that he would sing before his lecture every Sunday. He would chant them regardless of how many people — or none — showed up for them. I loved his dedication, his commitment, his love of all people. He could be stern, but it was always with deep love and respect.

When he retired to the Trabuco Monastery he continued to lecture and teach and contribute to the community. He was still cleaning the bathrooms when he was in his 90s.

~ Gillian Anne Renault

Here are a few photos submitted by Jerry Brunner and Laurie Findlay

Around 1998, Swami Yogeshananda graciously agreed to an interview for my independent documentary, “In Another Life: Reincarnation in America.” Actually, he agreed to two interviews, inasmuch as I decided to reshoot it, focusing, the second time, on Swami Vivekananda’s work in America. Being a follower of Meher Baba since 1974, but having always felt a strong affiliation with Sri Ramakrishna and the Vedanta Society, I formed a personal friendship with the Swami, and attended the small, intimate meetings at the Center for some time. I fondly remember the occasions on which I was invited to a private lunch—the palpable Presence felt during his simple invocation, his comfortable approachableness, his wisdom and his sterling character.

My first impression of him was of entering the house, and finding him, at age 75, up in the attic moving furniture! He was gentle and calm, but one could sense a steely strength in him, and I am not at all surprised that he lived to the ripe age of 99. I feel very fortunate indeed to have known him.

“In Another Life: Reincarnation in America” has been seen by over half a million people online, and it is also available for purchase to universities by Films Media Group. In the Swami’s segment, viewers are not only introduced to the Swami, himself, but to Swami Vivekananda and his work in America.

~ Stephen Sakellarios

Swami Yogeshananda
Play Video

We feel blessed to have been associated with Swami Yogeshanandaji at the Ganges, Michigan Vivekananda Monastery since the mid 1970s.

The evening Arati he performed daily with great devotion was a beautiful sight to watch.

Apart from conducting lectures on Sundays and Tuesdays, he actively participated in the daily chores at Ganges including cleaning, cooking, etc. The taste of the bread he used to make meticulously still lingers on.

He did not hesitate to do any type of work including any type of cleaning.

When he came to participate in the Millennium celebrations June 22-24, 2001 at Ganges, one of our volunteers found him cleaning the public toilets early morning.

He told the volunteer that this was one of his daily chores he did during his Ganges stay.

His last visit to Ganges was in 2013 when he participated in the “Chicago Calling” function in celebration of Swami Vivekananda’s 125th birthday.

We continued to correspond with Swamiji and prompt came the replies in spite of his partial visual loss.

Attached are the following.

1. Swamiji’s picture at the entrance of Ganges main building.

2. The bread machine he used at Ganges (which we have preserved).

We will always treasure the fond memories of our association with Swamiji.

Submitted humbly with Pranams.

~ Abraham and Betty Koshy
Ganges devotees/volunteers

Ganges bread machine
Ganges bread machine
Swami Yogeshananda, Ganges
Swami Yogeshananda, Ganges

In memory of Swami Yogeshananda

I will never be able to repay the gift you gave me, but I will never cease trying. God speed my dear friend.

Tom Couch

Tom Couch and Swami, Decatur Center
Tom Couch and Swami, Decatur Center

I happily knew Swami Yogeshananda when he joined our group in 1984. The group, named COSM, Community of Seekers and Mystics, began with Swami and several more of us who wanted to meet monthly to share interfaith and mystical knowledge and experiences. Through those years, I learned a great deal from this gentle and brilliant soul. He was my introduction to Vedanta. I visited the Center several times and met wonderful, kind, and intelligent people who also followed the path of Vedanta. Often the thoughts that he shared on our monthly topics were so vastly different than I had heard before and the Truth of his teaching would turn my heart and mind 180 degrees to see the Divine in a whole new way. When I think of Swami, I first see his smile, then hear his glorious laugh and then see the love for All in his eyes.

When he left to move to California, I, and members of COSM gathered to learn one more time from his faith, life’s journey, and wisdom. He told me that some students will still be able to learn from him even after he is gone from the body and not just from Georgia. I pray that I am one of those students who can still receive his lessons. I treasure my years of knowing my dear teacher and friend.

~ Susan A. Sendelbach

I met Swami in May, 1995 at my first COSM meeting. At that time we met monthly at the Monastery of The Holy Spirit in Conyers [Georgia]. At that first gathering I declared to myself that this man was undoubtedly the wisest person I have ever met. After all these years, I am still saying that Swami is the wisest person I have ever known. He had a way of explaining complex issues in very simple terms and spoke in a manner which made me feel as though he was guiding me to a conclusion, not preaching or talking down to a person not as spiritually evolved as he.

I treasured every moment in his presence, whether it was in a COSM meeting or at his Vedanta Center in Tucker. My husband and I loved spending Christmas Eve with Swami at his Center. He would weave the story of the Christ child into a beautiful message for everyone in attendance.

All of us in COSM loved to hear the stories of Swami’s early life. He had so many adventures as a young man. He was in the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) as a very young man. He learned how to bake professionally in the CCC and was responsible for all the baking needs of the camp. He continued baking up into his elderly years and often baked for us.

All of us were broken-hearted when Swami left Atlanta. We have missed him terribly; his wise counsel and beautiful friendship. For about 2 weeks I have been thinking very strongly about Swami, although I did not know that he had passed. I suspect that his Atlanta flock and everyone who knew him will continue to feel his presence and his loving spirit.

~ Anne Menese
Lilburn, Georgia

Swamiji was source of information, inspiration, insight and purity to me. He once said, I have been associated with this [Ramakrishana Vivevekanda Vedanta movement and being a monk of the order] for over 50 years and never ever even once I have regretted my decision to being part of it.
 
Hari OM!!!
 
~ Shailesh Pawar

What I remember fondly of Swami Yogeshananda Ji

Convictions, with their Pain and Price are the foundation of Faith.

Swami ‘Y ‘ as we fondly address him, like a warrior unwavering, lived by his convictions. He chose a spirit-breaking punishment rather than cave to Draft requirements.

Same was true when he went forth with the establishment of Atlanta Vedanta Center against all odds. Not a voice backed him then. From holding meeting in the Paideia School to a small rental place to the vibrating center we have today are the proof of his steadfastness.

Swami Ji with his brilliance and eloquence was very misery with non-essential words. He spoke little but his words, few and dense conveyed much wisdom for all alike—the householder or the renouncer.

Living a life of simplicity and thriftiness, he showered love and welcoming warmth over whoever reached out to him.

With the quiet seriousness he had the capacity to enjoy like a child, small pleasure—who can ever forget the endearing smile and easy laugh of our Swami Ji!

As Gandhi ji said,’ my life is my message’—same is true of Swami Yogeshananda Ji. We don’t need to look too far. Just cherish his memory and the time together. Those passing moments where he revealed his inner depths and the lessons imbedded—is our Guiding Light!!

With deep Prayers.

~Vimal Nikore

A memorable and inspiring person! We thank him for his service. RIP

~Suzanne Sen

Swami Yogeshananda entered the monastery of the Vedanta Society of Northern California in 1945. He took his Brahmacharya vows from Swami Prabhavananda. After serving for seven years in the building of the Sacramento Center, he went to India and was assigned to teach English in the high school at Narendrapur. In 1971 the Swami had his sannyasa from Rev. Swami Vireswarananda. He served as Assistant Minister of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda of London for over six years, and then in the same capacity at the Vivekananda Vedanta Society in Chicago for seventeen years. During that time he conducted the Center’s work in Michigan, Texas, Florida and Georgia. He headed the Vedanta Center of Atlanta for 18 years. Returning to the Trabuco monastery in 2009 he retired.

~ Triguna

In the 1990s after traveling to India and learning about Vedanta and Hinduism, I decided to visit the Vedanta Center. I grew up in Tucker so was familiar with the area and felt at home there. Since I was living in Marietta, it was not such a long trip there as it is now and I made it most Sundays. Swami Yogeshananda was a gentle man and I enjoyed his teachings. The people were also friendly and welcoming which I really appreciated since I am rather introverted. Then in 1999 I went to live in India for a while and that is when I met Ram i.e. James Swartz. We spent a couple of weeks in Q & A times where I learned that I agreed with all the Vedanta teachings. Of course the background at the Vedanta Center gave me a good base for that. That was a blessing. I am sure Swami will be missed by many.

~ Mary Lloyd

There is an old Chinese saying that when a student is ready, the Teacher appears. We were indeed ready, just three or four of us.We started as a Discussion Group around 1977 hopping from one Residential location to another, hoping to have a place of our own, somewhere in eternity!!!!

Circumstances were wobbly but our determination was steadfast.The group was gathering strength. We Needed a Spiritual Guru so earnestly. The place was not a problem, a suitable source was.We needed a person whose hand can be held by us if we wanted to traverse a journey to eternity. We got Swami Y, unsolicited but deeply prayed for!

His first lecture on Vedanta, and we knew he was sent to us by God. The bond was indeed Eternal!

Never does the path of Spirituality run so smooth. There were countless obstacles interposing our path, financial, circumstantial etc but you see obstacles only when your eyes are off your goal!

I want to say so much more but the page has started filling in so let me be real brief.

* Swami had many many difficulties along his way but he endured them gallantly/ spiritually.

* He also had many unexpected sources of help sprouting up his way. A totally unexpected check on his email when it was most needed and least expected. God looked after him!

* When I was visiting the center in construction, the carpenter asked me, “I do not know what is here that you are building but I feel SO SO happy when I work here.”

* In totally accepting him we found that emotions and devotion are so intermixed!

Swamiji, we always will love you!!!!

So much to stay but will stop here.

~ Bhagirath Majmudar

If you have photos or memories to share about Swami Yogeshananda, you are welcome to send them to info@vedantaatlanta.org and we’ll try to include them here.