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The relation of Svami Sadananda Dasa and Walther Eidlitz (Vamandas)

During the Second World War the Austrian author and poet Walther Eidlitz became the disciple of Svami Sadananda Dasa while they both were interned in Indian internment camps. This encounter is documented in Walther Eidlitz‘ autobiographical book “Unknown India”. For five years he received personal spiritual instructions and studied the bhakti texts and Sanskrit under the guidance of his guru in most hostile circumstances: “Every time I came to Sadananda during those days, a most frightful noise met my ears as I entered the door. Bartering was going on from the bed of his neighbour, and, furthermore, card-players sat around the only table in the barrack, slamming down the dirty cards. Often enough they got into dispute with one another. Sadananda did not seem to be the least disturbed by all this. He called out cheerfully: ‘So nice of you to come and call on me, Vamandas. Come and sit on my bed.’ A bright dome of peace seemed to hover invisibly over the miserable camp bed. When he began his narration, my ears became deaf to all the noise.” (from: Unknown India)

Yet the relation between Vamandas and Sadananda was not only just harmonious. Vamandas reports in his notebook: “He is able to taunt and mock, to swear at you and hurt and wound you, so that you could believe he was the very devil, hunting you; but in reality all this is nothing but ‘aggressive grace’. The hammer that hits against your forehead (your egotism) over and over again, until sparks fly, is an immensely strong love of God [bhakti] …”

In his book “Unknown India” he further explains: “Gradually I learned to realize that every word uttered by Sadananda was an expression of bhakti, knowing love of God, and that all his actions, whether friendly or scornful – he could be exceedingly harsh and stern – were based on an effort to waken the atma in the people he contacted, to make the atma realize its true nature, to be a servant of Krishna.”

In his personal notes, however, Vamandas also shows the other, loving side of Svami: “Like an angel he is guiding and carrying me. When I thought of him yesterday … (inner unrest) … he immediately turned up, standing quietly by my window: ‘Vamandas, are you still awake?’” In one of his diaries he sums up: “For one year I was living together with him in a tiny room in the camp and yet I didn’t recognize him for what he was; i.e., sometimes I guessed it and instantly he hid himself again, as this belongs to the play. And it is grace, grace, grace when he shows his true nature.”

Over the course of the internment period it became clear that both were destined to work together in order to realize the wish of Sadananda’s guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, to translate and explain the bhakti shastram-s and make them known to the West. Vamandas reports the words of his guru in “Unknown India” as follows: “The path, Vamandas, on which you have set out is a long one. But do not tire! How often my guru lamented the fact that he had never met anyone who was prepared to devote all his strength to translating and expounding the Bhagavatam. I have begun, and have spent many years doing this. But my strength is not equal to the task. Will you help me?” And Vamandas notes down the task he was assigned by Sadananda when, after his release, he was about to leave for Sweden: “Take the spiritual treasure you have found here in India into the West.”

But it turned out that Vamandas was not yet ready for this task. Already in 1952 Sadananda complains: “My dear Vamandasji, […] I believe it would be the best if I burned all my notes for the third time. It is all in vain. You, too, are ‘betraying’ the secret and are pouring the Holy Communion wine into the glasses of the taverns – alas!” The disappointment, however, was only so strong, because Sadananda’s hopes had been so high. He writes: “You must not take my severe criticism of your mistakes badly – it is only because I love you so incredibly, Vamandas, for your absorption in the Bhakti cult, that I shall make so bold as to do that, to be so hard with you – you, who have sacrificed so much for me. But rest assured, your sacrifices don’t cling to me, like sunbeams pass through wide open windows, they go on to Him and Her.”

In another letter he calls him his “true child” for whose sake he kept translating on his sickbed summoning up his last reserves of energy. It turned out that the root of all of Vamandas’ difficulties was his clinging to his poet identity. Svami explained to him: “I don’t know where you stand today. Your misfortune was that you could neither take up what Jnana and Advaita vada of Shankara really teach, at Shri’s place, nor could you bring yourself to a genuine and free ‘yes’ with shraddha in what the Bhagavatam and Caitanyadeva teach. You kept on trying to read your own thoughts into the Bhagavatam and revolted whenever Caitanya taught something that seemed to be in opposition to what you had read in the Bhagavatam in a distorted translation. I have no idea to what degree this has changed in the long meantime. I often feel that if neither you two [Vamandas and his wife Hella] can come to India nor I to Sweden then neither your readers, listeners nor you yourself will ever reach the goal of bhakti.”

Sadananda almost broke with Vamandas after he had read Vamandas’ book “Die indische Gottesliebe” (The Indian Love of God). 1956 Sadananda writes: “I write these notes to your book today on April 19th, 1956, Ramachandra’s appearance day. I don’t know how you will react to my letters and if, from my notes, you will experience and understand that in your book you have written the opposite of what I have explained and given to you since 1942 – because the authoritative Revelation of God’s Word says so. And I don’t know if Krishna and Mahaprabhu will give you the power to start all over again and if They will give you the courage, after thorough reflection and regret, to write a book about the love of God so that it will be an act of service instead of aparadha; to be of help for seekers, instead of everywhere and in every way be misleading – and if in a new book you will have the courage to write the opposite of what you have written in almost every line in the present book.”

Sadananda explained to him that the reason for this disaster had probably been that Vamandas, from the very beginning, had turned to the public while he was still wrestling with himself. It was not so easy to overcome the Maya in ones own heart. At the expense of quality he had rushed into “preaching” and publishing. He continues: “The curse on the whole previous work is this: Without having worked through and assimilated things clearly and distinctly in their entirety, books have been made up out of all sorts of material – hastily; you have some foundation stones, half a wall and a few roofing tiles – but it doesn’t matter whether the academic bigwigs and the men of letters here and there are praising and supporting us or not – it is all about those who are still alive, that they will receive clear knowledge through listening; and about doing samkirtan, i.e., transmitting in a truly genuine and perfect way what we have heard, and sharing it with friends; and from us it must grow and must find fertile ground and more friends who will help […].”

To a common friend Sadananda explains: “Walther rather thinks in concepts of ‘publicity’ and ‘influence’ his books and lectures could have – this is a true burden indeed, but a poet of his sort seems to be bound to always think of the effect he has or could have.” For this reason Sadananda felt forced to lower his expectations and to reconsider his cooperation with Vamandas in Europe. After his initial visit to Vamandas and his wife Hella in Sweden 1962 he summed up his experiences as follows: “It was heart-breaking and the deepest disappointment of my whole life that Vamandas hadn’t bothered to work seriously with the Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindhu, the Caitanya Caritamritam and the Caitanya Bhagavatam and hadn’t worked through the original sources together with the translation aids I had provided for him. I felt like someone who had come to teach Shakespeare and who was forced to teach the A.B.C instead. […] I’m facing the ruins of my dream city and try to get over my deep grief and be able to see what possibilities still remain for Prabhupada’s seva.” – “After the calamity with the ‘Gottesliebe’ this was the most severe blow in my life, that you had neglected to work things through. You are not lacking – as you say – ‘knowledge about the lila’, but you are lacking the inner principles and basic structures, you are lacking the terminology and the whole system of concepts – and this is what Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindhu and Ujjvala-Nilamani teach. If grace and love and even prema were so cheap as you made the people believe there, the whole Bhagavatam hadn’t been necessary.”

Accordingly he concluded that he wouldn’t provide Vamandas with raw translations any more but only with completed translations. He goes on to explain to their common friend: “I intended to entirely remain in the background and let Vamandas write the books – i.e. to let Vamandas shape my roughly translated texts beautifully. But my observations during the last months in Forshults Gård have shown me that this is not working. […] In the future I am going to make all translations in such a way, that nothing remains to be changed. This will take longer, but since Vamandas is not able to do it, I better do it myself right away.” In 1962 he writes to Vamandas: “Your works differ from mine. We can help each other. I want to publish texts, very close to the original, texts which force the reader to cooperate and work very hard.”

Their common goal consisted in, as Sadananda put it, to firstly collect those “who have the nobility to be allowed to walk the most magnificent path in this dark age (due to serving God in previous lives) […] – and, secondly, to write down in word and text for the future, that there are such magnificent, great Divine things, so different from what man expects and presumes so that people like Sadananda might at least be able to receive the deepest truth in correct words.” And already in 1955 he warned Vamandas in a letter that “you cannot render the people in the West a worse disservice than making things palatable to their mentality. The Truth is as ‘revolting to the Indian general religiosity and mentality’ [as to the Western mentality]. You are my true child, Vamandas. […] Please, Vamandas, start the spiritual revolution!”

And despite all criticism and disappointment he writes to Vamandas on his birthday in 1975: “Dear Vamandas, my heartfelt congratulations to your birthday. May Shri Krishna’s grace be upon you and give you strength to continue to serve Him for many more years and to spread His message among the people […] Tell everybody – whatever they do for you, they do for me as well –.”