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Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati

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Rev. Dr. Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati is a Hindu ascetic, priest, educator, and spiritual preceptor, serving at Kali Mandir in Laguna Beach, California.

Mahant
Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati
Bhajanananda Saraswati 2015.JPG Bhajanananda Saraswati 2015.JPG
स्वामी भजनानन्द स्रस्वती
BornJosé Manuel Alvarado
26 November 1970
Tijuana, Mexico
🏡 ResidenceKali Mandir Ramakrishna Ashram, Laguna Beach, California, USA
🏫 EducationBA (Religious Studies) UC Berkeley, DMin (Applied Theology) New Seminary
💼 Occupation
Hindu clergy, theologian, educator
🏢 OrganizationKali Mandir
Known forDedicated to the worship of the Divine Mother in the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna
Notable work"Return to the Source, Collected Writings on Spiritual Life", 2016
TitleMahant, Vice President, Dean
🌐 Websitehttps://www.kalimandir.org/ https://www.ramakrishnaseminary.org/ https://cyberdhuni.org/

Early Search[edit]

Born in Mexico and raised in the United States, Swami Bhajanananda began intense study and practice of Hindu spirituality at age sixteen. His early focus was on the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and on Shakta and Vaishnava devotional practices, especially japa, kirtan, and puja.  During this time he received the blessings and guidance of many sadhus from different traditions, such as Pujya (Revered) Swami Chetanananda, senior monk of Ramakrishna Math and Mission and head of the Vedanta Society of St. Louise; Rev. Ramakrishna Ananda, head of the Yoga Center of California & Spiritual World Society; Pujya Swami Shantanand Saraswati; Pujya Swami Sahajananda Giri, HG Baba Hari Das, and HH Varshana Swami.

Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati with Param Pujya Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati (1904-1997) at Yoga-Vedanta Kutir, in Prayagraj, India, 1992.

Spiritual Initiations and Training (Dīkṣā)[edit]

In 1987, while still in high school, Swami Bhajanananda met his guru, the great saint and yogi His Holiness Parma Pujya (Most Revered) Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati of Prayagraj (1904-1997), who was the senior disciple of Param Pujya Swami Hridayananda Saraswati (1850-1954), popularly known as Yogiraj Handiya Baba.

In 1990 Swami Bhajanananda took his first pilgrimage to India, and has returned almost yearly since then for tirtha-yatra, sadhana, study, training, and service.

In 1992 Param Pujya Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati gave him the yellow cloth of a brahmachari (novice monk) with the name Bhajanananda Chaitanya. He was given further initiations, blessings, and training by His Holiness Param Pujya Swami Chidananda Saraswati (1916-2008), president of the Divine Life Society and Sivanandashram in Rishikesh; Sri Haradhan Chakraborti, head priest of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, who belonged to the Tantric lineage of Bamakhepa; and Srilasri Chaitanyananda Natha Saraswati, head of the Sri Vidya Temple Society (Rajarajeshwari Peetam) in Rush, NY.

Monastic Ordination (Saṃnyāsa)[edit]

Swami Bhajanananda with Param Pujya Swami Omananda Saraswati, at Vindhyavasini temple, Vindhyachal, UP, India, 2010

On 22 March 1999, the auspicious Lakshmi Panchami day, Swami Bhajanananda was ordained as a sannyasin (renunciate) in the Bhurivar Sampradaya of the Dasnami order of monks via the rite of Purna Sannyasa Diksha by His Holiness Sri Mahant Param Pujya Swami Omananda Saraswati, the beloved disciple and spiritual successor of Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati, at the Triveni Sangam, the confluence of the sacred Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers. The solemnizing rituals where performed by Brahmin pundits on the holy grounds of the Yoga Vedanta Kutir, Triveni Bandh, Daraganj, Prayagraj, U.P. India. He was also given Shakti mantra diksha at this time. As a sannyasi, Swami Bhajanananda has taken lifelong vows, never to be relinquished or rescinded, to properly follow, uphold and represent the sannyasa tradition and his guru-lineage; strictly observe the ascetic disciplines of celibacy, non-violence, and non-possession; and to dedicate his life to renunciation, meditation, and service. He was given the monastic name Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati and authorized to wear the kavi (orange robes) and other insignia of a sannyasin.[1] Swami Bhajanananda is one of only a few of Mexican heritage to be ordained in this orthodox Hindu religious order.

Mahant of Kali Mandir[edit]

Ma Dakshineswari Kali, Kali Mandir 2022

Kali Mandir is a California 501 (c)(3) non-profit religious organization founded in 1993 by Elizabeth Usha Harding, author of Kali, the Black Goddess of Dakshineswar. Kali Mandir is dedicated to the worship of the Divine Mother Kali in the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Kolkata. The principle office of Kali Mandir is known as Kali Mandir Ramakrishna Ashram. Located in Laguna Beach, California, in the sacred Laguna Canyon, two miles from the Pacific Ocean, and surrounded by the natural and protected beauty of the Laguna Cove Wilderness Park. Although located in a private residence, the shrine is open to guests at scheduled times or by appointment for darshan, puja, kirtan and discourses. The spiritual heart of the ashram is the temple of the Divine Mother Sri Ma Dakshineswari Kali, and also includes meditation gardens, a small book & gift shop, a Hindu seminary, and a residential monastery. Residence at the monastery is restricted to those living monastic lives dedicated to spiritual practice, study, and service of Ma Dakshineswari Kali and Her devotees. Traditional standards, restrictions, rules and protocols for Hindu monastic life are observed by the residents of the monastery.

Swami Bhajanananda has served as a Kali Mandir pujari (priest) since its founding. In 1999 he was appointed Mahant (head priest and abbot) of Kali Mandir. As Mahant, he is responsible by solemn vow, for the care and veneration of the consecrated murti of Ma Dakshineswari Kali; maintaining the standards of Her worship; the training and ordination of Her pujaris; the passing on of Her Tantric puja lineage; the management of Her temple and monastery; and the spiritual care of Her devotees. He also serves as Vice President of the Kali Mandir Board of Directors.[2]

Swamiji performs the daily and special ritual worship of the Mother Goddess Kali and other forms of divinity, leads kirtan (devotional chanting), performs worship in devotees homes, conducts Hindu samskaras (sacraments), initiates sincere devotees into spiritual practice, and regularly give spiritual discourses (pravacan) on the classical Hindu scriptures. His practice and teachings are based upon the Bhakti and Tantra traditions of Sri Ramakrishna and the Yoga and Vedanta traditions of his sannyasa lineage.

Education[edit]

Swami Bhajanananda earned his Bachelor of Art degree in Religious Studies with a focus on Hinduism and Buddhism in 1996 from the University of California at Berkeley (CAL). He was privileged to study with such great professors as Dr. Michael Nagler, Dr. Robert Bella, Dr. Lewis Lancaster, and Dr. Robert Goldmen. Through the concurrent enrollment program he also attended courses through the Institute of Vaishnava Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, studying Sanskrit and Bhagavad Gita with His Holiness Dr. Hridayananda Das Goswami. During his time at UC Berkeley he was blessed to have the holy company and spiritual guidance of Pujya Swami Aparananda, head of the Vedanta Society of Berkeley; Pujya Swami Omkarananda Puri of Bhadrika Ashram in San Leandro CA; and Dr. Suman and Sargam Shah of the Sri Vidya Nada Mandir in El Cerito, CA.

In 2018 Swami Bhajanananda earned his Doctor of Ministry degree in Applied Theology from the New Seminary for Interfaith Studies in New York, NY, the oldest interfaith seminary in the world, founded by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman and His Holiness Swami Satcitananda Saraswati. Under his advisor Very Rev. Dr. James Speights II (HRH Prince Dah Videkon Deka), Swami Bhajanananda studied pastoral care and researched theology & practice across spiritual traditions. His doctoral capstone project was on Religious Pluralism and Sri Ramakrishna’s Tantric Ontology.[3]

Teaching Career[edit]

Swami Bhajanananda served as an instructor at the University of California at Irvine in their Yoga Studies Program from 2006 to 2009. He is an advisor for Hinduism at the New Seminary, adjunct faculty in Tantra Studies for the Virtual Rishikulam at MVIVVU, and He serves as the Dean and senior instructor of the Ramakrishna Seminary at Kali Mandir.[4]

Dean of Ramakrishna Seminary (Pradhanācharya)[edit]

Swami Bhajanananda giving a scripture class at his dhuni. Kali Mandir Ramakrishna Ashram, 2017

Ramakrishna Seminary is an educational ministry of Kali Mandir dedicated to the training of the next generation of scholars, theologians, teachers, and practitioners in the broad and deep teachings of Sanatana Dharma. The seminary combines Eastern and Western, practical and academic, ancient and modern, traditional and progressive methods and approaches to religious education and is rooted in the universal teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886), the great world-teacher and incarnation of divinity who taught the transcendent unity of religion, the motherhood of God, and the mystical path of love and devotion. Holding its educational resources and scholarship to a high standard of academic rigor, Ramakrishna Seminary focuses on the practical applications of religious thought and philosophy to the active spiritual lives of its students. Emphasis is given to personal spiritual development, cultural authenticity, and service of God in the world. Although operating informally since 1993 in the training of the priests, monks and devotees of Kali Mandir, in 2019 Ramakrishna Seminary began offering formal classes and courses to the greater spiritual community online under the direction of Swami Bhajanananda. Ramakrishna Seminary offers courses of study leading to a Certificate in Hindu Studies and Diploma in Applied Hindu Theology, and is developing Master and Doctoral programs as well.[5]

Swami Bhajanananda has more than twenty-eight years of experience in presenting the teachings and practices of Sanatana Dharma, Indian philosophy and the Hindu devotional schools. As Dean and Senior Instructor (pradhanācharya) of the Ramakrishna Seminary, he strives, along with the faculty, to approach these practices, systems and customs respectful of traditional understandings while being informed by contemporary scholarship and responsive to modern challenges.

Other Details[edit]

  • Speaks at universities, high schools, religious centers, temples, ashrams, yoga centers, and professional gatherings on Hinduism and interfaith relations.
  • Featured in the eight-episode documentary series Yogic Paths produced by Gaia TV.
  • Featured in the documentary film Imagemaker directed by Emmy award-winning editor Uma Sanasaryan about the making and worship of Kali images.
  • Delegate-presenter for the Parliament of World Religions in October 2021, speaking on The Tantric Way of Healing.
  • Translated, edited, and authored several books, including Return to the Source: Collected Writings on Spiritual Life.
  • Recorded several albums of kirtan.
  • Presently working on several commentaries on Hindu scriptures such as Kapila Gita, Kali Sahasranama, and Narada Bhakti Sutras.
  • An editor for the Kathamrita Project, translating the Bengal spiritual classic Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita led by Rev. Swami Ambikananda Saraswati.
  • Presently guiding several students through their doctoral capstone projects at Ramakrishna Seminary.  
  • 100% of all donations he receives as dakshina goes to support the children and sadhus of his guru's ashram, Yoga-Vedanta Kutir, in Prayagraj, India.

Bibliography of publications[edit]

Return to the Source: Collected Writings on Spiritual Life by Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati, Kali Mandir, 2016. ISBN 9781523687701[6]
Books and booklets[edit]
  • Bhakti Sutra of Narada, Kali Mandir, 2017.
  • Dance in Ecstasy: Instructions in Spiritual Life, by Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati, ed. Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati, Yoga Vedanta Kutir, 2005.
  • Devi Mahatmyam: Glories of the Goddess, Kali Mandir, 2012.
  • Hymns from Sri Chandi, Kali Mandir 2012.
  • Japa-Vidya: Preliminary Instructions in Mantra Meditation, Kali Mandir, 2004.
  • Kalikashtakam, with Swami Ambikananda Saraswati, Kali Mandir, 2019.
  • Kali Stotram: Hymns to the Goddess, Kali Mandir, 2004.
  • Lakshmi Stotram, Hymns to Goddess Lakshmi, Kali Mandir, 2006.
  • Mahishasuramardini Stotram, Kali Mandir, 2017.
  • Pranayama: Instructions in Yogic Breathing, with Swami Omananda Saraswati, Yoga-Vedanta Kutir, 2015.
  • Ramakrishna Upadeshamrita: the Nectar of Sri Ramakrishna’s Spiritual Instructions, Kali Mandir, 2004.
  • Remember Ram: Devotional Poetry of Swami Govindananda, ed. Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati, Yoga Vedanta Kutir, 2014.
  • Return to the Source: Collected Writings on Spiritual Life, Kali Mandir, 2011.
  • Simple Kali Puja: Instructions in the Ritual Worship of Dakshina Kali, Kali Mandir, 2011.
  • Simple Shiva Puja: Instructions in the worship of the Shiva Lingam, Kali Mandir, 2006.
  • Sri Ramnam Sankirtan: Litany of Divine Names, Kali Mandir, 2012.
  • Tantric Sandhya Vandana: Rituals for Gayatri Japa at the Junctures of the Day, Kali Mandr, 2020.
Articles[edit]
  • Kali Puja: the Art of Seeing God, with Swami Ambikananda Saraswati, (Light of Consciousness Magazine, Winter 2001)[7]
  • Kirtan: Singing the Divine Name (Namarupa Journal, Categories of Indian Thought, Winter 2004)[8]
  • Swami Vivekananda and the Worship of Kali in the West (Prabuddha Bharata, January 2013)[9]
  • The Path of Devotion (Light of Consciousness Magazine, Winter 2005)

Discography[edit]

Devotional albums[edit]
  • Ancient Mother, Kali Puja Live II, Various Artists, Kali Mandir, 2003
  • Gayatri, Mother of the Vedas, Kali Mandir, 2020
  • Kali Kirtan, In Praise of the Divine Mother, with Trevor Hall, Kali Mandir, 2007
  • Kali Mandir Arati Bhajans, Kali Mandir, 2011
  • Kali Puja Live, Kali Mandir, Various Artist, Kali Mandir, 1998
  • Nama Kripa, Mercy of the Holy Name, Kali Mandir, 2019
  • Om Sri Kalikayai Namaha, with Trevor Hall, Kali Mandir, 2019

Recordings of Discourses[edit]

Swami Bhajanananda has given hundreds of classes on sacred text such as Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad Gita, Devi Gita, Devi Bhagavatam, Devi Mahatmyam, Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, Narada Bhakti Sutra, Kali Sahashranama, and the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Audio and video recordings of over 250 of these talks are available on the Kali Mandir podcast and Youtube channels (see External Links below).

Honors[edit]

In 2020 Swami Bhajanananda was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in Tantra Brahmavidya by Maharshi Vedvyasa International Virtual Vedic University (MVIVVU), in recognition of his more than twenty-five years of pastoral service to the Hindu community, along with the honorific title Tantra Śiromaṇi.[10]

External Links[edit]

  1. Personal website: https://CyberDhuni.org/Bhajanananda
  2. Kali Mandir website: https://KaliMandir.org/
  3. Ramakrishna Seminary website: https://www.RamakrishnaSeminary.org/
  4. Audio recordings of scripture classes and lectures by Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati: https://kalimandir.podbean.com/
  5. Video recordings of scripture classes, lectures, kirtan, and pujas by Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati: https://www.youtube.com/c/KaliMandir/videos
  6. Articles by Swami Bhajanananda: https://cyberdhuni.org/bhajanananda
  7. Books by Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Swami-Bhajanananda-Saraswati/e/B09Q2J19FR/ref=aufs_dp_fta_dsk
  8. Kirtan albums by Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati on Bandcamp: https://kalimandir.bandcamp.com/
  9. WIKI page: Kali Mandir
  10. WIKI page: Ramakrishna Seminary
References[edit]