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Peace peregrinations

Swami Sankarananda shares teachings on harmony and finding joy in simplicity

On January 1, 2014, Swami Sankarananda began a nine-month, nearly 3,000-mile trek across the United States, carrying only bare necessities in a 25-pound backpack. Wearing the orange dhoti of a Hindu monk, he resolved to “walk in prayer unceasing for all to know peace.”

Following the same route as Peace Pilgrim, who crisscrossed the country for 28 years during the Cold War and Vietnam, Sankarananda vowed to ask for nothing and accept gratefully anything offered. He pledged to walk in faith, trusting whatever he did not carry would be provided.

“I was going to either transcend fear and desires completely or die in the desert trying,” he wrote.

November 17–19, Sankarananda will lead a silent retreat at Osage Forest of Peace. The retreat is designed to inspire transcendence from living in fear to living in peace and harmony. Visitors will be guided through silence, meditation, chanting, yoga asana, and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.

Sankarananda, 61, became a Hindu monk after living nearly two years in India. He spent most of his adult life as a corporate executive, earning six figures, traveling internationally, and owning grand homes, luxury cars, and boats. Working and playing hard, he appreciated fine wines and experimented with cocaine, LSD, and mescaline.

“Nothing was ever enough,” he said. “I had seemingly become the character I played, but inside was still that boy that just wanted to love and be loved. I had confused excitement with happiness.”

Eventually he bottomed out—his car was repossessed and home foreclosed.

“Finally, I began to look at the desires that kept coming from my mind and to begin, just begin to see the craziness of at least some of them.”

For two years, he read about quantum physics, the dual-slit experiment, entanglement of sub-atomic particles, string theory, X-ray cosmology, black holes, dark energy, infinite parallel universes, and hologram theory, which postulates the world is not as it appears. In the end, he concluded that ancient philosophies synch with scientific discoveries.

He began practicing yoga and experienced vaiagya, a Hindu word describing dispassion for the pleasures of the material world. In July 2011, he renounced all commitments and headed to India for a spiritual bootcamp. Daily practice and study from 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. at the ashram helped him realize nothing he had ever done brought real happiness.

“It was sinking in that joy is to be found in simplicity, not complexity,” he said.

Inspired to become a sadhu, a wandering monk, he got the idea to walk across the U.S. Later, he learned about Peace Pilgrim, who walked 50,000 miles, advocating world peace, peace between neighbors, and inner peace. Swami decided to follow her example.

“When we quiet the unruly mind, when we focus on the beneficial and just do our best, the universe takes care of us,” he said.

Several times on his cross-country journey, his orange garb attracted undesired attention, mistaken for that of an escaped convict. One officer summoned a mental health professional to evaluate his sanity. After he passed the test, they gave him bottles of water and granola bars.

Walking east through the desert near Encino, New Mexico, the winds reached 50 m.p.h. In the town of fewer than 100 residents, he was offered food and shelter until the storm passed. In the Texas Panhandle, he noticed a sign marking the Burmese Theravada Buddhist Fellowship. There, a Myanmar refugee welcomed him to stay several nights through the Burmese New Year.

Truck drivers and state patrol officers frequently stopped to offer rides, but Swami declined, keeping his vow to walk on foot. Spontaneous acts of kindness were common, as with an Amarillo woman who washed his clothes at her laundromat. Sankarananda said his water bottle was never empty more than two hours, replenished by the generosity of others. Many people accompanied him for a few miles of pilgrimage.

“This world is not as it appears on the television news; it is not even as our own mind sees it. Bright examples shine all around us. Know that if one genuinely seeks a thing like peace or truth, it may be known, and this very process of seeking brightens both seeker and world.”

Outside of Tulsa, Swami stopped overnight at Osage Forest of Peace, a retreat center inspired by the teachings of Father Bede Griffiths. He returns there this weekend to “demonstrate living in peace and to share the ancient and universal teachings of yoga.”

For more information about the retreat with Swami Sankarananda, or Osage Forest of Peace and upcoming events, visit forestofpeace.org.