Vishwananda's Low-Key Style Surprises
File under: Satsang Report
A few weeks back we went to see Swami Vishwananda, who some claim to be the reincarnation of Paramhamsa Yogananda. He's also alleged to be a former acolyte of Sai Baba and an up-and-coming space-daddy in the States. We expected this review to be like snagging trout in a puddle, but it turns out that the Swami is actually quite low-key. We even found him endearing at times. Who'da thunk that? It certainly caught us by surprise.
But there were still plenty of the elements – like miracle-mongering – to reveal the affair to be a space-daddy baby recruitment drive. (We were tipped off as soon as we saw that the ushers were wearing the white, loose-fitting clothing favored by space-daddy babies.)
The event was well-attended by Santa Fe's 40+ New Age™ consumer crowd, filling the medium-sized ex-Catholic chapel that's now a meeting hall adjacent to a museum. Missing were the younger yoga crowd, many of them Ammabots and not permeable to alternate space-parenting. After lots of singing, a short talk that was very soft on content, and then more singing, Swami Vishwananda began to receive people into his well-practiced, beneficent gaze.
We didn't wait for the darshan as it looked like it was going to be hours until they got to our row. One of the white-garbed ones, an attractive and seemingly sharp devotee from Los Angeles, offered to help us cut in line when we asked her about the swami's entourage (including band, he rolls about 30 deep), but we decided to take a pass and headed home.
All in all, not so horrible, yet not so great. We'll give Vishwananda two out of five turbans.
The Sweet: The kirtan band. With guitar and bass, they were sporting a shade of rock, but augmented by good traditional instrumentation and skilled South-Asian musicians (from the U.K.), with one of them being a dead-ringer for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The lead singer tried to whip the crowd into a devotional fervor, at first with not much success. But then, things seemed to pick up of their own accord. We have to admit being swept up a little bit ourselves at times. And at one point, they were sounding like David Bowie's band playing "Memory of a Free Festival" from Space Oddity, the one record we'd take on a desert isle.
Also mostly good was the Swami himself. There were a number of things we liked about his self-presentation. Like when he walked into the room, it was with little fanfare. He just strode right up the middle of the room in a purple long-shirt and sat on the floor in front of the stage. This is certainly noteworthy, as most of the space-daddies like to place themselves on a dais of some kind, above the poor saps who've come to see them. This actually presented a problem for those of us in the back who wanted to gaze upon the man, but Swami Vishwananda seemed to care about people seeing him as a person as much as a God. We were quite impressed with this gesture.
Swami likes to sing, and did so in a slightly-off key but endearing way that even seemed to get through the tarry-inkiness of our heart. We don't normally go in for the kirtan thing, but the fact of the swami's singing combined with the expert accompaniment resulted in a pleasant experience for us.
The Sad: The Swami's speech. It pretty much blew. It could be somewhat due to ESL issues, but the content wasn't anything more than the pabulum-like platitudes that are a space-daddy's stock-in-trade. He tried to empathize the idea of "conquering the mind," but this only reveals his own ignorance of identity dynamics and any real understanding of what's going on in the shakti-lusting heads of the space-daddy babies around him. But the pretty smile obliterates any need to actually know anything, and so the Swami blunders on, lighting the way with his teeth.
Also not good was the organization of the darshan itself. Higher-ups and friends got preference, and they were taking hours. Us local shlubs had to wait, and it was going to be a long time before they got to the pews in the rear. The white-garbed folk were offering cuts to those who asked, but that's just extending their institutional selfishness rather than coming up with a better solution to the problem.
The Fugly: The Swami's MC. First he comes on and starts name-dropping for the V.I.P.s in the room, mostly just higher-ups in their org. Then, he starts selling the books, pictures and DVDs for sale in the foyer. But when the clown opens up on the crowd with some bald-faced miracle-mongering, we knew the psych-ops had begun and our opinion of the Swami began to drop precipitously. It was only his low-key presentation and the estimable musical entertainment he provided that saved him from a total trashing here.