Swami Veda Bharati began teaching yoga at the age of 9. He was a founder of the Meditation Center in Minneapolis, and his spiritual influence extended across the globe.
He died last week at 82 after suffering health problems most of his adult life. In a special ceremony, his body was set adrift into the Ganges River in India.
For years he taught at the University of Minnesota and was known as Usharbudh Arya. But in 1969 he began establishing yoga centers around the world, and eventually renounced the secular life and became a monk, or swami, in the yoga tradition.
He was the spiritual director of a secluded ashram on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh, which attracts people from all over the world to learn more about the practice of Dhyana yoga, according to the Himalayan tradition.
Swami Veda, as he was called, often talked about the tradition of meditation, or sitting in quiet stillness and total awareness, an ancient practice that he said transcended religions and is taught in all the world’s faith traditions.
In a 2009 interview with the Star Tribune, he talked about what it meant to be a “swami.”
“It is a spiritual call — the same as anyone has a call to be a monk or a nun, to be of God alone,” he said. “It means that you cannot have any boundaries to your living. Why is this person my family member and you are not? I can’t distinguish that as a swami. The moment I see you, you’re my family member. If you have a problem and my physical daughter has a problem, my attention should not be more to her and less to you.”
He was the author of 13 books and 30 booklets. He produced more than 4,000 hours of audio lectures on the philosophy and practices of meditation. Swami Veda established more than 50 centers of yoga and meditation in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
In his 20s, Jim Nelson had a restive soul and remembered being encouraged to attend one of Swami Veda’s Thursday night public lectures at the Meditation Center. Nelson, who would go on to become a psychologist with the Anoka-Hennepin School District, recalls being enthralled with how his tales were spun, and how he was able to return to a central theme, a “facile mind revealed through this flowing talk.” Nelson would become a teacher and longtime board member and president at the Meditation Center.
“His goal the whole time was to relieve suffering,” Nelson said. “If your mind is still and you can reach a state of silence and peace within, then you can make a difference in the world. It will come from this place of seeing a connection between you and everyone else on the planet.”
Jean Sheehan met him her first day at the University of Minnesota in his religious studies class in 1970. She was late and he told her to come to his attic that night for a class on meditation. She spent decades studying with him.
“His teaching gave me the deepest life purpose I could ever be looking for — to understand the meaning of life, freedom and, yes, even enlightenment,” she said. “It is curious that Swami Veda has thousands of students, yet he individually guides each one to their exact need and capacity.”
Until his health began failing him, Swami Veda returned to the Twin Cities each year for about six weeks in the summer, even as his reach extended throughout the globe. Students from around the world would come to seek his counsel and hear him lecture.