A Mahatma symbolizes an enlightened soul, who has achieved immortality and ultimate joy through a clear understanding of one’s own true nature. Such an extraordinary vision is only attained through discriminative knowledge, disciplined effort and renunciation of non-essential pursuits by truly rare individuals. It is to be noted that our ancient scriptures (Shastras) specify that to gain this rare stature, individuals need to seek personal contact and guidance of Mahatmas.
In older times such Mahatmas tended to reside to their own hermitage in the Himalayas, which made their wisdom inaccessible to the common person. However, in modern times, seekers of knowledge are blessed with the presence of these great souls when they travel to be in our midst and impart their wisdom through close contact.
We are fortunate here in the San Francisco Bay Area to not only have access to such noble individuals whose mere presence is a blessing in itself, but also be able to interact and imbibe this subtle knowledge through discourses and live-in retreats.
Swami Viditatmanandaji, a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayanandaji, is one of the greatest masters of Advaita Vedanta in recent times. Swami Viditatmanandaji’s extraordinary journey from being an engineer in the U.S. to one of the most highly accomplished and respected spiritual leaders in India, puts him in very exalted company. Swaroop Chaitanya, having obtained an MS in engineering from the University of North Dakota, while working in New York happened to attend a discourse by Swami Chinmayanandaji. He was so taken by the vision of the self that he left his job and enrolled in the two and a half year Vedanta course in Sandeepany, Mumbai, against the wishes of his loving family. After completing this course, he was asked by his guru, Swami Dayanandaji, to move to Ahmedabad as a Brahmachari, and teach the public. He became instantly popular, and in 1983, in his mid-forties, received diksha to become Swami Viditatmananda.
Vijay Kapoor, himself having completed the Vedanta course under Swami Dayananda and serving as the secretary of the newly formed Arsha Vidya Pitham, met Swami Viditatmanandaji at the Gurukulam in Saylorsburg in 1989. The Indian American Bay Area resident was immediately struck by Swamiji’s thorough grasp and clear explanations of Vedic principles, and requested Swamiji to grace the Bay Area. Swamiji agreed; this has now become an annual weeklong tradition for the past 20 years.
The benefits of close associations with a Mahatma for the student are manifold: including enhanced mananam and nididhyasanam (contemplation and meditation); receiving guidance in a non-judgmental, loving manner; and advice on how best to deal with daily struggles. At longer events such as the retreats, Swamiji develops personal relationships and tailors the teaching to meet the needs of the students. During satsangs and bhikshas, he tirelessly answers all questions; during the advanced Bhashya classes, he enlightens experienced devotees with even a deeper insight into the subtle truths, much like his own guru used to.
In addition, Swamiji is a prolific writer and has published scores of books, CDs, and videos on Vedantic teachings; he converted a lecture series by his guru into a book, “The Teaching of Bhagvad Gita,” which has become a classic. Along with direct teachings, Swamiji as the visionary president of the Gurukulam imparts his wisdom as a “vidvat sannyasi” of the Advaita Vedanta Sampradaya. He has chosen to remain active in the world and function as a teaching sannyasi, like his guru, instead of leading a solitary lifestyle. The charisma of his erudite personality, insight into his deep knowledge of shastra, and the handling of personal and administrative issues in a calm manner, lets him lead by example to one and all; to a seeker from any walk of life, regardless of whether the devotee is a common man or the prime minister of India.