It was in March 1991 that I had met Swami Sadanandji for the first time. I along with Sant Eshwar Singh, Swami Sundareshan and Fr. ML Satyan were on a two-month long ‘Shanti Yatra’ across Madhya Pradesh. Our aim was to promote interreligious cooperation for peace and value education. The ‘Yatra’ was being coordinated by my friend, Fr. Varghese Alengadan, a priest of Sagar diocese. Fr. Jacob Peenikaparambil, CMI had arranged the meeting with Swami Sadanandji who was at that time living alone in a small hut in a remote village near Silwani. His simplicity, humility, holiness and courage had impressed me very much in our first meeting itself. This was the beginning of our friendship that grew from strength to strength over the years. His sudden demise a year ago was a great loss for many of us, especially for me.
I came to know Swamiji very closely during my ‘poverty experience’ with him in 1992. I had requested him to help me experience poverty. With the permission of his Provincial he accompanied me to a poor fishermen colony in Vypin island near Kochi where we lived a ‘hidden life’ of prayer and poverty for six months in a hut given to us for our stay by one of the poor fishermen families. We were dressed like poor people. Swamiji was always like that. He did not even wear chappals! But for me this was a totally new experience. We told the people there that we were wandering mendicants looking for some employment to support ourselves for six months before we moved on. The simple fisherfolk believed us.
We slept on the floor on mats made of coconut leaves and ate ‘Kichidi’ twice a day. The first thing he taught me was how to make ‘Kichidi’. He taught me to make two kinds of Kichidi: ‘Jesuit Kichidi’ and ‘Franciscan Kichidi’. Both were more or less the same, except that the ‘Jesuit Kichidi’ had less water and more vegetables in it, whereas the ‘Franciscan Kichidi’ had more water and fewer vegetables.
For earning our livelihood we did petty jobs like spraying mosquito repellents as daily wage workers for the Corporation of Cochin, cleaning up septic tanks and wells, helping the fishermen repair their fishing nets etc. It was very difficult for me during the first few weeks. But Swamiji worked and behaved as if it was the most natural way of living for him and the most natural things for him to do! He had tremendous physical strength and stamina. But he used to eat only the ‘Franciscan Kichidi’ which he had told me was his ‘favourite dish’. Through him I understood the words of Lord Jesus Christ – ‘I have food that you do not know of’. But he was very sympathetic and understanding with me. He even used to buy some Samosas and fruits now and then only for me.
We prayed together in the evenings. His prayer was very simple. He preferred meditation to verbal prayer which also suited me well. Few women and children in the colony also used to join us sometimes in those evening prayers. During such times we used verbal prayers. We also sang songs and bhajans.
Once in a while we used to ‘sneak away’ to the Major Archbishop’s House at Ernakulam where my friend Mar Jacob Manathodath was the Auxiliary Bishop at that time (He is now the Bishop of Palakkad). Bishop Jacob used to treat us with sumptuous meals. He was very supportive of my spiritual quests. But he used to warn me to take care of my health. He was very confident that Swamiji could do all these easily. But he knew well my own family and Air Force background, and was concerned about my health.
The ‘poverty experience’ made me realize the spiritual strength of Swamiji. We became life-long friends. We kept constantly in touch with each other. I visited him and stayed with him for a few days while he was living in Saccidananda Ashram, Narasingpur. There I found him to be a great ‘healer’. Many local people used to come to him for treatment. He had a vast knowledge of herbal plants and medicines.
After I started the Navasrushti Ashram in 2014 near Nagpur, Swamiji used to visit me often. He also used to conduct ‘Yoga Nidra’ programmes for people whenever he came to our Ashram. Many of my friends used to eagerly wait for his visit.
When we prepared a Payer book for Navasrushti Ashram, my friends chose a photo of Swamiji and me walking together towards the central hall of our Ashram for its cover. Though I could not attend his funeral service at Bhopal, two of my friends and their families attended it on behalf of our Ashram.
We have now hung an enlarged photo of a smiling Swamiji in our Ashram prayer room. I have always felt that Swamiji was a living saint. He is no more with us in physical form. Hence, we have kept his photo in our prayer room. We feel very much encouraged and inspired just by seeing his smiling face, looking down on us from the photo!
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I have often reflected on Swamiji’s life and many of the interactions I had with him. I have sometimes felt that he was like a second St. Francis of Assisi for us. I have also seen a new vision of Christianity and an ‘Indian face’ of the Christian faith unfolding through him for India, our motherland which is an ancient land of religions.
Those very misguided Hindu brothers, who had opposed and persecuted him once, also bestowed upon him later awards for his goodness and selfless service! Many of them used to come to him seeking his blessings! They felt if Christians could be like him, all Indians would become Christians!
Swamiji was a prophet of a new vision of Christianity. According to him, Christianity is first and foremost a ‘presence’. Our lives as disciples of the Divine Master should be a healing and enlivening ‘presence’ in the society around us. People may or may not understand us. Some may ridicule and oppose us. But the Holy Spirit which is given to us by an ever compassionate and eternally loving God in, with and through our Divine Master enables us to persevere in the path of truth and goodness. Swamiji was a living example.
The primary call and mission of all disciples of Lord Jesus Christ is to be authentic witnesses to the presence of an ever-loving and infinitely merciful God in human history through the living Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. This was the new vision of Christianity presented and promoted by Swamiji. Our Christian faith has to first of all become an experiential presence of the Christ-Spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation in our own personal lives. The basic ministry entrusted to all Christians is the ministry of reconciliation (Ref. 2 Cor 5. 18). Swamiji was an instrument of forgiveness and reconciliation. He was able to reconcile the man who killed Sr. Rani Maria with her parents. Like him, all of us Christians are also supposed to have the Christ Spirit within us.
Christianity should be first and foremost a way of life that should help us Christians to experience within our own beings the living presence of Christ. Christianity as a ‘Presence’ should make us persons through whom people around us can see this indwelling Christ. Swamiji was such a disciple of the Divine Master. He focused on the experiential dimension of the Christian faith.
The Church today needs to give greater importance to seeking and promoting the experiential dimension of the Christian faith than to mere preaching and social service activities. ‘Doing’ must come as a natural outcome, as a fruit, of one’s ‘being’. Christian service has to be the fruit of Christian love which comes from the indwelling Christ Spirit within one’s own being.
The most serious crisis facing the Church today is the absence of the much-needed living and loving relationship with the person of the crucified and risen Christ. The Church is often busy with acquisition and management of material wealth and properties, with devotions to saints and miracle workers, and with novenas, sacraments, rosaries, feasts, festivals, pilgrimages, rituals etc. The crucified and risen Christ is often missing from the individual and collective lives of Christians today. Christianity as a ‘Presence’ that was lived by Swamiji calls all of us Christians to live and work in, with and through the living Spirit of Christ. Swamiji represented such a new vision of Christianity. May his life inspire us to be such instruments of God through whom people can see the living presence of the Christ-Spirit that is ever active in human history.
(Published on 01th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 01)