Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

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Fast Facts
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Gurudeva, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
Shaiva Siddhanta, Vedanta
Main Countries of Activity: 
Date of Birth: 
Place of Birth: 
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Date Left His/Her Body: 
Other Related Gurus: 
Sage Yogaswami


Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927 - 2001), affectionately known as Gurudeva by his followers, was born in Oakland, California on January 5, 1927 and adopted Saivism as a young man. He traveled to India and Sri Lanka where he received initiation from Sage Yogaswami of Jaffna in 1949. In the 1970s he established a Hindu monastery in Kauai, Hawaii and founded the magazine Hinduism Today. The author of many books on Hinduism and metaphysics, Subramuniyaswami was one of the most prominent faces of Hinduism during the last two decades of the 20th century

He was one of Saivism's most orthodox and revered Gurus, the founder and leader of the Saiva Siddhanta Church, the world's first Hindu church. Professor Klaus Klostermaier, one of the world's leading specialists on Hindu studies, said in his A Survey of Hinduism:

“ Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ... did much to propagate a kind of reformed Saivism through his books. As founder-editor of Hinduism Today, an illustrated monthly, he became the single-most advocate of Hinduism outside India.[2] His Himalayan Academy trains Indian and Western Hindu monks and his Hindu Heritage Endowment provides a source of income especially for priests belonging to the Saiva Siddhanta sampradaya worldwide. Subramuniya was honored and recognized by Hindu leaders in India and abroad.[3] ”

1927-1946 - Youth in California
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, affectionately known as Gurudeva, was born in California in 1927 as Robert Hansen. While living with his family in a chalet at Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe, California, the young Gurudeva began having mystical experiences at an early age. One major experience occurred at the age of six, when he distinctly saw his awareness as an entity entering the total consciousness of the here and now. In his autobiography, he relates how “the totality of the power of the eternity of the moment began to become stronger and stronger within me from that time onward”. [4] This experience formed one of the cornerstones of Gurudeva’s future teachings.

A few years later, both his parents passed away. Living with relatives at the age of eleven, Gurudeva decided to learn the art of dance. Later, he explained the mystical aspect of dance: “Through the esoteric forms of dance, you become acquainted with the movements of the currents of the physical body, the emotional body and the body of the soul. The meditating dancer, inspired by music, finds the inner currents moving first, and lastly the physical body. This releases his awareness into inner, superconscious realms of the mind in a smooth, rapid and systematic way.” [4] A friend of his parents was a dancer familiar with Indian forms of dance of the Bharata Natyam, Manipuri and Kathakali schools. She became Gurudeva’s first “catalyst”, as she educated the young mystic in Hinduism through culture, music, art, drama, dance and all the protocols of Indian life. For four years, Gurudeva studied intensely. He learned the worship of Lord Siva Nataraja and was introduced into the Vedanta philosophy. He listened to lectures by Indian swamis at the Vedanta Society in San Francisco and read books. He was most inspired by the life of Swami Vivekananda and his four small volumes: Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Inspired Talks, and most particularly by Swami Vivekananda’s masterful poem, "The Song of the Sannyasin."

When Gurudeva was fourteen and fifteen, his second and third “catalysts” patiently taught him how to center the whole being of the physical body, the emotional body and the spiritual body so that the inner light would appear. At that time, he was meditating two hours every day. Gurudeva’s strict training in classical Eastern and Western dance and in the disciplines of yoga developed him into an outstanding dancer. He joined the San Francisco Ballet Company, becoming their premier danseur by age nineteen. However, he knew that he would find his guru on the island of Sri Lanka and that going there to study was his next step. At twenty years of age, he took the first ship to leave for India after World War II. He celebrated his twenty-first birthday just days before going ashore and walking through the grand Gateway to India in Mumbai.

1947-1949 - Visit to Sri Lanka
Gurudeva spent almost three years on the island of Sri Lanka. Before meeting his guru, he studied with his fourth “catalyst” for a year and a half. Gurudeva just wanted to meditate, but his teacher made him work to help village people with reconstructing rural areas. Assignments included seeing that a new village bridge was put up again after a flood, bringing into another village modern electric saws and carpentry equipment to replace the old tools used in building furniture, and getting a school started for Buddhist children in a village lacking a school or teachers. Gurudeva visited and lived in many Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. He was received by the monks there and saw how they lived and dressed. This experience influenced in a very strict way the monastic protocols that he later put into action in his own monastic order.

This part of Gurudeva's training culminated in 1949 and he could finally go meditate in search of enlightenment. He briefly met his fifth catalyst, an old mystic, who helped him complete his training for the realization of the Self. In the caves of Jalani, Kurugala Balandha, Sri Lanka, he fasted and meditated until he burst into enlightenment. Gurudeva relates his feelings while returning to Colombo, Sri Lanka: “Returning back to the city, nothing looked the same anymore. I was in another dimension. Everything was different. I had lost something: the desire for the realization of the Self. I felt complete. I felt alone.” [4]

Gurudeva in 1949, right after his return from Sri LankaBack in Colombo, Gurudeva met his final teacher before meeting his guru. Up to this point, Gurudeva had studied yoga and had a fine exposure to Buddhism in Sri Lanka, but had not been made aware of orthodox Hinduism. His sixth catalyst brought him into Hinduism from a deep, inner-plane perspective, teaching him the mysticism and then the ritual. One day, his teacher arranged a meeting between Gurudeva and his long awaited satguru, Sage Yogaswami. After a deep and inner meeting, Yogaswami gave him the name Subramuniya. Subra means "the light than emanates out from the central source." Muni means a silent teacher, and ya means restraint. Subramuniya means a self-restrained soul who remains silent or speaks out from intuition. After a few visits, Jnanaguru Yogaswami initiated Subramuniya into the holy orders of sannyasa and ordained him into his lineage with a tremendous slap on the back giving the following instructions:

This sound will be heard in America! Now go ‘round the world and roar like a lion. You will build palaces (temples) and feed thousands.[5]

Gurudeva later fulfilled his mission by building two temples of his own, giving blessings to dozens of groups to build temples in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and elsewhere, gifting Deity images to 36 temples to begin the worship, and establishing the Hindu Heritage Endowment to support Hindu temples, organizations, relief efforts, publications and other institutions and projects worldwide. Yogaswami continued to communicate with Gurudeva through Kandiah Chettiar until his death in 1964. In the line of successorship, Subramuniya was considered the 162nd Jagadacharya of the Nandinatha Sampradaya's Kailasa Parampara.

1949-1970 – San Francisco
In late 1949 Subramuniya sailed back to America and embarked on seven years of ardent, solitary yoga and meditation. He had been given instructions not to do any teaching until he became thirty years of age. Until then he was to observe, have experiences and learn. His book Cognizantability, a collection of profound aphorisms and commentary on the states of mind and esoteric laws of life (recently republished as an appendix of his book Merging with Siva), began to unfold from within him in these years.

In 1956, Gurudeva had a tremendous spiritual experience in Denver, Colorado, where “the soul body would finally fully inhabit the physical body”. [4] The following year, in San Francisco, Subramuniya founded what is now Himalayan Academy and opened America's first Hindu temple near Presidio Park. Sincere devotees gathered around him, and in 1960 Gurudeva formed his monastic order. He delivered many inspired talks to his early students. One in particular, The Self God set the pace of advaita philosophy for the West. With the creation of The Master Course, he began doing his part as a helper on the path. In Switzerland, 1968, he revealed Shum, a mystical language of meditation that names and maps inner areas of consciousness. In 1969, Gurudeva’s desire to return to Sri Lanka intensified.

The first India Odyssey Travel/Study program was formed and Gurudeva traveled to Sri Lanka with sixty-five students. He traveled extensively from 1969 to 2001, addressing hundreds of thousands of Hindus, especially followers of Siva in Sri Lanka and India.

1970-2001 - Kauai

Kadavul Temple at Kauai's Hindu MonasteryGurudeva moved his ashram to Kauai in 1970, establishing Kauai Aadheenam, on a riverbank near the foot of an extinct volcano. Also known as Kauai's Hindu Monastery, Kauai Aadheenam is a 458 acre (1.9 km²) temple-monastery complex on Hawaii's Garden Island. In 1975 he conceived the San Marga Iraivan Temple on Kauai as the first all-granite temple established outside of India. In 1977 Gurudeva intensified requirements for his Western devotees to sever all prior religious and philosophical loyalties, legalize their Hindu name and formally enter Hinduism through the name-giving rite. In 1979 he published the Holy Orders of Sannyas, defining the ideals, vows and aspirations of Hindu monasticism with unprecedented clarity. In 1979 he founded the Hinduism Today magazine, and in the early 80s, after his world tours, focused his magazine on uniting all Hindus, regardless of nationality or sect, and inspiring and educating seekers everywhere. His international Hindu renaissance tours in the 1980s brought him face to face with hundreds of thousands of Hindus, most notably in Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, and Mauritius, to whom he spread a powerful message of courage and pride of heritage. In Sri Lanka, Gurudeva formally took possession of the main building of his Sri Subramuniya Ashram in Alaveddy, founded in 1949. In the early 1980s he established the antiquity and legitimacy of monistic Saiva Siddhanta at international conferences among pundits who had insisted that Siddhanta is solely pluralistic.

Capstone of Iraivan Temple at Kauai's Hindu MonasteryIn 1986 Gurudeva founded a branch monastery in Mauritius in response to the government's request that he come there to revive a languishing Hindu faith. In 1991 he produced the Nandinatha Sutras, 365 aphorisms that outline the entire gamut of virtuous Hindu living. Especially in the early 1990s he campaigned for fair treatment of temple priests, particularly that they should receive the same respect enjoyed by the clergy of other religions. In 1998 Gurudeva began an ardent campaign for the right of children to not be beaten or verbally abused by their parents or their teachers. He inspired his family devotees to teach Positive Discipline classes as their primary community service to help parents learn how to raise their children in an atmosphere of love and respect. In 2000 he published How to Become a Hindu, showing the way for seekers to formally enter the faith, confuting the notion that "You must be born a Hindu to be a Hindu." In November of that year, he launched Hindu Press International (HPI), a free daily news summary for breaking news sent via e-mail and posted on the web. In 1999, 2000 and 2001 he conducted three Innersearch journeys, consecrating new temples in Alaska, Trinidad and Denmark. In 2001 he completed the 3,000-page Master Course trilogy of Dancing with Siva, Living with Siva, and Merging with Siva - volumes of daily lessons on Hindu philosophy, culture and yoga, respectively. On November 12, 2001, he attained mahasamadhi surrounded by his monastics and devotees.

For over five decades, Subramuniyaswami taught Hinduism to Hindus and seekers from all faiths. He was an ardent supporter of Hindu temples and priests, and an articulate spokesperson for Hinduism in the West. Meanwhile he and his monastics followed a contemplative and joyous existence, building a white granite Siva temple (Iraivan temple), meditating together in the hours before dawn, then working to promote the Sanatana Dharma through four major areas of service: Saiva Siddhanta Church, Himalayan Academy, Hindu Heritage Endowment, and the international quarterly, Hinduism Today Magazine. Gurudeva's mission, received from his satguru Yogaswami, was to protect, preserve and promote the Saivite Hindu religion as expressed through its three pillars: temples, satgurus and scripture. All his work and mission, vision, and projects now go forward under the guidance of his successor, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami.

[edit] Honors and awards
1986 - New Delhi's World Religious Parliament named Gurudeva one of five modern-day Jagadacharyas, world teachers, for his international efforts in promoting and chronicling a Hindu renaissance.
1988 - Oxford, England: Hindu representative at the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival. Gurudeva joined hundreds of religious, political and scientific leaders from all countries to discuss privately, for the first time, the future of human life on this planet.
1990 - Moscow: Hindu representative at the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival.
1992 - Rio de Janeiro: Hindu representative at the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival.
1993 - Chicago: at the centenary Parliament of the World's Religions, Gurudeva was elected one of three presidents, along with Swami Chidananda Saraswati of the Rishikesh-based Divine Life Society and Kerala's Mata Amritanandamayi, to represent Hinduism at the Presidents' Assembly, a core group of 25 men and women voicing the needs of world faiths.
1995 - Delhi, the World Religious Parliament bestowed on Gurudeva the title Dharmachakra for his remarkable publications.
1997 - Gurudeva responded to the US President's call for religious opinions on the ethics of cloning from the Hindu point of view.
2000: Gurudeva receiving the U Thant Peace Award at the United Nations in New York1997 - Gurudeva spearheaded the 125th anniversary of Satguru Yogaswami and his golden icon's diaspora pilgrimage through many of the over 75 Sri Lanka temples and societies around the globe.
1998 - The Vishva Hindu Parishad of Kerala sent an envoy to Kauai to honor and recognize Gurudeva as the "Hindu Voice of the Century."
2000 - On August 25, he received the U Thant Peace Award (an award created by Sri Chinmoy) at the United Nations in New York. Prior recipients of this award were the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. He addressed 1,200 spiritual leaders gathered for the UN Millennium Peace Summit, with the message, “For peace in the world, stop the war in the home.” Upon his return to Kauai, 350 citizens and county and state officials gathered to herald his accomplishments on the island and beyond.
until 2001 - he was a key member of Vision Kauai 2020, a small group of community leaders that includes the Mayor, former Mayor and County Council members. They met on a monthly basis to fashion the island's future for twenty years ahead, based on moral and spiritual values.
Principles and philosophy
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami belonged to the ancient monistic school of Saiva Siddhanta. This theology is called monistic theism, as it possesses a rare synthesis of devotional theism and uncompromising nondualism. It equally promotes temple worship and yogic revelation. It teaches that God is both within and outside of man, being the Creator and the creation, immanent and transcendent. In Gurudeva’s own words: “God Siva is everywhere. There is no place where Siva is not. He is in you. He is in the temple. He is in the trees. He is in the sky, in the clouds, in the planets. He is the galaxies swirling in space and the space between galaxies, too. He is the universe. His cosmic dance of creation, preservation and dissolution is happening this very moment in every atom of the universe.” [6]

At the core of Gurudeva’s philosophy is his absolute perspective that the Reality of God comprises three perfections - Parasiva (Absolute, Transcendent Reality), Satchidananda (Immanent Love) and Paramesvara (Primal Soul) - and that man's soul is already perfect in its undifferentiated identity with Parasiva and Satchidananda, although this identity is concealed from us by our fascination with the world of form. Parasiva and Satchidananda are not aspects of the evolving soul, but its very nucleus - which does not change or evolve.

The evolution of the soul lies in the maturing of its intrinsic Godliness over the course of many lifetimes and beyond, so that it finally becomes indistinguishable from God Siva's third perfection, the Primal Soul. The primary goal of Gurudeva’s monistic Saivism is attaining the life-transforming realization of one's identity - in perfect nondifferentiation - with Parasiva. “We are That. We don’t become That.” This is termed Self Realization (enlightenment), and may grant moksha, permanent liberation from the cycles of birth and death. A secondary goal is the realization of Satchidananda, a unitive experience within superconsciousness in which perfect Truth, knowledge and bliss are known. Therefore, the path of monistic Saivism leads the seeker to the realization of all three perfections of the Reality of God: Satchidananda first, then Parasiva, with the final goal of Paramesvara obtained long after moksha. [7]

A brilliant teacher and orator, Subramuniyaswami spoke eloquently about virtually every aspect of life—from ultimate reality to household harmony, kundalini yoga to adolescent angst.


The three volumes of the Master Course TrilogyGurudeva was author of more than 30 books unfolding unique and practical insights on Hindu metaphysics, Saivism, mysticism, yoga, and meditation. His works are highly regarded by many contemporary Hindu leaders. [8]

His Master Course[9] is Gurudeva's most monumental work, a comprehensive treatise on every aspect of Saivism in three books and more than 3,000 pages, composed in what he called "talkanese" - a flowing version of written English that resembles the spoken language and evokes ancient Hindu oral traditions. Subjects include deep metaphysical insights into the nature of God, soul and world, mind, emotions, ultimate realizations, chakras, and purpose of life on earth. Simple but effective practices are taught: how to remould human nature and karmas, calm the mind, develop self-esteem, begin to meditate, clear up the past and create a bright future. At the same time, the reader is guided in establishing a regular devotional and yogic practice whereby the gains of his inner life and realizations are stabilized and used in practical ways. Gurudeva’s Master Course lessons for children are taught in many schools, preserving the teachings of Saivism among thousands of youths.

Four areas of service
The four areas of service established by Gurudeva and now carried out by his successor, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, and monastics, are: Saiva Siddhanta Church, Himalayan Academy, Hindu Heritage Endowment, and the 'Hinduism Today' international quarterly magazine.

Saiva Siddhanta Church

Gurudeva with his successor, Satguru Bodhinatha VeylanswamiFrom 1977 until his mahasamadhi in 2001 Gurudeva nurtured a staunchly Hindu, highly disciplined, global fellowship of family initiates, monastics and students who follow the sadhana marga, the path of inner effort, yogic striving and personal transformation. With this competent team and a sophisticated infrastructure, his Saiva Siddhanta Church nurtures its membership and local missions on five continents and serves, personally and through publications and the Internet, the community of Hindus of all sects. Although staunchly Saivite, Gurudeva worked tirelessly to promote Hindu solidarity, envisioning a "unity in diversity" in which petty frictions are overcome, and like the mighty banyan tree, Hinduism's propensity to take root in new soils and put forth new branches is a source of strength and glory. His various institutions form a Jaffna-Tamil-based organization which has branched out from his Sri Subramuniya Ashram in Alaveddy to meet the needs of the growing Hindu diaspora of this century, gently overseeing some 40 temples worldwide. He also established a seven acre (28,000 m²) monastery in Mauritius, which includes a public Spiritual Park. Missionaries and teachers within the family membership provide counseling and classes in Saivism for children, youth and adults.



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