Swami Bhashyananda

His Mission...Part 2- A Center Grows

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.

When Swami 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.

A core 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.

Even in 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.

In 1968, 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).

Soon thereafter, 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.

By 1973, 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.

From 1973 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 week-end programs.

By the 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.

Mothers 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.

Swami Bhashyananda Index