The life of Swami Bhashyananda
and the work he did in America can be divided into two catagories -
things he accomplished in the material world and the teaching and training
he gave to individuals. The following section deals more with the material
accomplishments he made during his 26 year stay as head of the Chicago
and Ganges centers. Another section, "His Teachings", will
discuss his spiritual ministry.
Bhashyananda first arrived in Chicago (1965), the center there was small
and it's finances were limited. Over the course of the next several
years, he instituted dramatic changes. First, the center was moved to
it's old location, just north of the Museum of Science and Industry
in Hyde Park. There, regular classes were begun and as time past, the
congregation grew. Soon, the center became prosperous. Special worships
celebrating regular holidays were incorporated into the public programs
and more people began to attend.
group of devoted individuals dedicated themselves to the Swami's efforts
and helped run the programs, do the finances, raise the funds and prepare
the public feasts that accompanied activities. Some of these individuals
chose to live there at the center itself. Soon, more space was needed
and several nearby buildings were purchased.
these early years, young men and women seeking the alternative lifestyle
of monasticism came on the scene from all over the country and abroad.
The newly expanded center then seemed perhaps to be too small. In addition,
these new young men and women needed space and opportunity to develop
themselves into monastics, if they so chose.
after some searching around the lakeshore of Lake Michigan, Swami Bhashyananda
found the site of what would become the Vivekananda Monastery and Retreat.
He had traveled around looking for a sign, perhaps something that would
indicate to his satisfaction that a site had been found. While driving
along 196 in southern Michigan, he saw the exit for "Glenn, Ganges".
The name "Ganges" caught his attention naturally, so he turned
off, found a realitor and discovered a 100 acre fruit farm for sale (a
fruit farm would be considered auspicious in Hinduism). He spoke to several
of his fellow swami's in America and it was soon clear that he should
proceed with purchasing the land. One said, "Don't hesitate a minute!
Do it!" (Swami Ashokananda). So, the land was bought and plans wre
made to begin to use the land. (It is interesting to note that Swami Ashokananda,
the great swami that headed the San Francisco Vedanta center for over
40 years, is purported to have had diksha, or spiritual initiation, from
a great woman saint, Sannyasini Gauri Ma, the first monastic disciple
of Sri Ramakrishna).
a number of potential monks came to Ganges from Chicago and began the
work of growing and selling the fruit crops produced on the new farm
retreat. It became known as the "Vivekananda Monastery and Retreat"
and was incorporated as a Michigan non-profit organization. Occasional
summer retreats were held as well, where supporters from around the
country would meet to hear the wisdom of the east from various swami's
and guest speakers.
a new direction to the work in Ganges was begun. Many new monks were
living at the monastery at this time and Swami Bhashyananda wanted to
turn the farm into a retreat center with better facilities. Most of
the fruit trees were removed and some new barns and living
quarters we built. The following year, a temple was started. Over the
next 9 years, the temple grew into a 50,000 sq ft facility, built by
the monks themselves. Swami Atmalokananda & Swami Tapasananda (currently
at Mothers Trust / Mothers Place) were the main monastics responsible
for the operation and construction of the monastery from 1974 unil 1991.
until 1982 were years of tremendous growth at the monastery. Many young
men and women found there way there and took up residence at the monastery,
some for a few weeks, others a few years, others for longer. At the
same time, the occasional summer retreat that took place for a few in
the early years grew into a regular schedule of larger retreats and
early 1980s, all was in place for yet another development in the unfoldment
of Swami Bhashyananda's work. By then, young men and women had recieved
training as monastics for years, a loyal group of dedicated supporters
had grown and assured financial stability to the Chicago and Ganges
centers and a fully equipt retreat center had been built. With all these
elements in place, a bit of history was about to appear again. Something
that needed to be fulfilled from the past.
Trust / Mothers Place would be established in a few short years and
in retrospect, everything (from the early years of the
swami's arrival in Chicago until 1990), can be seen as leading
towards that culmination. But that was not all...
Soon would come the wonderful and mysterious connection
with the Sri Sri Saradeshwari Ashram in India - a direct womens lineage of
nuns (holy sisters), established in 1895 by Sannyasini Gauri Ma and
commissioned by Sri Ramakrishna.