There was some sadness for me at Christmas – even apart from my usual sadness of so many animals being slaughtered to go onto celebratory plates.
Dr. Rishi Vivekananda died a few days before Christmas.
Vivek, as he was affectionately known, was one of Australia’s leading, best-known yogis. He was husband to Rishi Hridayananda who, for many years, has been the spiritual head of the Mangrove Mountain yoga ashram.
“Rishi” is a title given to a sage or seer, only conferred on highly developed yogis. The name “Vivekananda” is made up of two words: “Viveka” means ‘true knowledge’ or ‘right understanding’, and “ananda” means pure unalloyed bliss or pleasure (Sanskrit Glossary of Yogic Terms, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, 2007).
An initiation name does several things. In part, it reflects who or what you are, and your potential, but it also give you something to strive for, aiming to fulfill that potential.
From my perspective, Rishi Vivek well and truly lived up to his name. He was a medical doctor, starting out as a GP, and then becoming a psychiatrist which he worked at for 40 years. From the time he discovered yoga in the 1960s or ’70s, he integrated the techniques of yoga with the modern knowledge of the mind, body and healing. For many years he treated the psychological wounds of Vietnam veterans, including using Yoga Nidra – a deep relaxation practice – with his patients.
His knowledge of yoga was vast, and his understanding deep. For many years he traveled the world teaching yoga – not just the narrow field of asanas (postures), but also urging people to take advantage of the breadth and depth of yoga philosophy.
I have been fortunate to attend several of his satsangs (gatherings at which principles of truth/yoga are discussed, and where there is a main speaker and the audience members are invited to ask questions). Although Vivek was highly educated, he always spoke in language that could be understood by the least educated. He was fascinating to listen to, not only for the knowledge he was imparting, but he frequently illustrated his point by referring to his own experiences. His talks were spiced with his keen, clever sense of humour.
He has lived a long, true Yogic life. Thousands of people, including myself, have benefitted from his wisdom and been cheered by his humour. The yoga community around the world will keenly feel his parting.
I extend my condolences to Rishi Hridayananda and their family.