A Guru's Tale "Who is Vishnu Panigrahi"?

Yogi Vishnu Panigrahi has been steeped in spiritual endeavors since childhood. As a young boy, his grandfather advised him to meditate and pursue spirituality from an honest and pure perspective.

A Radhe-Krishna Temple was constructed by his grandfather in their village in Odisha, India where Vishnu would frequently serve food and water to wandering sadhus.

In the larger town ten kilometers away from his village, young Vishnu would skip school and attend the satsang (spiritual company and discourse of the saintly) of several swamis, counting among them was Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Haridwar. He found a kalyana-mitra (friend on the noble path) in a boyhood friend who would arrange to meet with him at 3 a.m. in secluded places away from the village. Here they would join for meditation and chant "Mohamudgaram," a famous hymn by Adi Shankaracharya, to dispel their fears and gain vairagya (intense inclination to renunciation).

On Sundays and holidays, Vishnu would serve the impoverished people at the nearby hospital by washing them and taking care of those waiting and recovering from treatment. There was always a lack of nurses to care for the patients who had to lay on the cement floor with bare facilities.

One day, young Vishnu met an old man who had a horrible odor with small worms attached to his legs. He was neglected by the doctors for a long time but eventually, his legs were treated and bandaged. For a few days, Vishnu took it upon himself to care for the man by cleaning his beard and taking care of his every need. The man was so grateful and — driven to happiness the old man blessed young Vishnu.

On the following day, Vishnu returned to be with him again but the man was not there. He inquired to where the old man was but no one remembered him or could say he had ever been there! Vishnu was surprised and felt it was God Himself who had come in the form of the old man.

Some years later, an aged man was found near his home debilitated with diseases. He was turned away by doctors as he was of low caste. Vishnu noticed him and, at first, took him to a hidden place. Being an orthodox Brahmin, it was culturally unacceptable for him to mix closely with the lower caste. While beginning to treat him with food and medicine he asked himself, "why should I hide?"

Vishnu brought him to an open place within his community where people observed Vishnu bathing the aged man. The village talk was all about how Vishnu had become mad and crazy! Vishnu did not relent and, instead, he focused his attention on becoming a strong leader in his village and surrounding areas for the cause of humane treatment of individuals irrespective of caste.

At the young age of 15 years, Vishnu became a member of Muni Samaj, a school of meditation. At age 18, Vishnu met Vedanta Keshari Swami Niranjanji, popularly known as the “Lion of Vedanta”. For two years, Vishnu studied under him.

By the age of 20, Vishnu had become deeply immersed into a path full of devotion toward spiritual knowledge. He had acquired a bachelors degree in arts at Jyoti Vihar University. His days and nights passed in prayer, japa (mental mantra-recitations) and chanting holy names in kirtan.

It was during this time that Vishnu faced his greatest challenge thus far. He was diagnosed my doctors with having a congenital heart defect. The only treatment for his condition was open heart surgery. There was no money at home for the procedure until he had awakened. Feeling like he was reborn as a new person, Vishnu made a sankalpa (vow) to passionately serve humanity in every way possible.

Vishnu started on his new mission by organizing many medical camps, spiritual discourses and bhajan programs in the nearby villages, serving mostly the poor and underprivileged in the Odisha state of India. During this time, Vishnu even started a grocery business to counter one man who was cheating the people by doing unscrupulous business.

Soon after, Giridhar Gopal Shastri came from Brindavan to conduct satsang and other spiritual lectures. On his last day lecturing, he gave an invitation to the whole crowd that any brahmacharis (celibate novices to be initiated) can come with him to Brindavan and receive training. Though there were thousands in attendance in the crowd, Vishnu felt like Giridhar Gopal Shastri was speaking directly to him.

Vishnu went home, packed a small bag and left for Brindavan without gathering any money. At the time, reaching Brindavan had been his greatest pilgrimage as it marked a very important, new transition in his life. He was so thrilled and inspired every day that he could hardly ever sleep.

In four months, Vishnu read 18,000 verses of the Srimad Bhagavatam, was trained in kathas and became a member of Hari Katha Yojana. Katha is a beautiful way of delivering highly inspiring discourses of intense godly sentiment with songs and musical verses.

Vishnu eventually made his way to Rishikesh and visited the caves of the Himalayas. There, one sadhu baba, a yogi, introduced Vishnu to the teachings of Swami Rama. This was an extremely transformative period of time in his life full of much learning and experience.

At one point, the sadhu announced that all of Vishnu's possessions were to be thrown into the Ganga in order for him to experience dis-attachment to worldly objects. After complying with his demands, Vishnu was left with one set of clothes, the one he was wearing.

The yogi also provided a cave for Vishnu to meditate and, while sitting inside one day, Vishnu heard movement and sounds behind him. There, positioned on the upper ledge of the cave, was a fierce-looking cobra. Vishnu tried his hardest to keep his composure and not succumb to his fear. Instantly, he heard a whisper come from within him saying, “I’ve come to release your fear, not increase your fear." It was his inner voice.

Eventually, Vishnu had to leave the yogi. He was ready to join the Gurukulam (a spiritual school) and be under the close guidance of Swami Veda Bharati. Vishnu taught at the Swami Rama Institute of Meditation and Inter-faith Studies for 9 years and obtained his masters degree in Sanskrit and in yoga.

Vishnu feels extremely blessed to have learned from other great masters in his life, such as Swami Hari, Shri Mauni Babaji, and Swami Shankarananda ji.

Yogi Vishnu has been traveling and teaching spirituality outside and inside India for many years. He's completely appreciative of his experience in life so far. Now, he is deeply dedicated to guiding students at World Peace Yoga School to experience a unique and spiritually nourishing life journey all their own.