Spiritual leader's year in retrospect

Published May 21, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - It was just about a year ago that the Vedanta Center of St. Petersburg welcomed its first full-time spiritual leader, Swami Yuktatmananda, to the Old Southeast community.

In the time since he arrived from India, Yuktatmananda, a member of the Ramakrishna Order, has been settling into his new home and getting to know his small congregation of mostly American converts.

Last year the St. Petersburg center qualified for its own swami when it was accepted as an official member of the Ramakrishna Order of India. It is the 13th official center in the United States and the only one in the South.

Vedanta evolved from the teachings of the Vedas, a collection of ancient Indian scriptures. Sri Ramakrishna validated the eternal principles of Vedanta in the 19th century, and Swami Vivekananda, his foremost disciple, brought it to the West in 1893. Yuktatmananda recently talked about developments at the center since his arrival.

When we spoke a year ago, you talked about your goals for the local congregation and for the community at large. What have you been doing?

We have more and more community people coming to our service. Now I'm getting requests from other parts of Florida: from Orlando, Miami, Port Charlotte and Tampa. There are some groups there that have been calling me for talks. Tampa and Orlando have Hindu temples, so I've given talks there, too. ... This May 24th, I'll be visiting San Francisco. This is a sort of an educational trip for me, on the one hand, and on the other hand, it's for them to see and hear the new swami, so to say.

What has surprised you in the past year?

There's no surprise element. It's been a welcome experience. On the other hand, there are some things, of course, that pain you, like the Virginia Tech incident. Those things just make you think that all that freedom that you find in America, does it not come with a price?

How can Vedanta be translated into everyday life?

The essential teaching of Vedanta is that all of us are divine in the core of our personality. If God is in me, God is in you, God is in everyone. External differences, which are inevitable at the physical level, don't hold your attention if you try to live this simple truth.

According to the philosophy of the Ramakrishna Order, to which the center belongs, if we can remember this inherent divinity in us and interact with others in a spirit of worship of the God in them, we can move closer to God ourselves.

If you go

Vedanta Center of St. Petersburg

Where: 216 19th Ave. SE, St. Petersburg.

Services: 1 1 a.m. Sundays

Study sessions: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

Information: (727) 896-9840 or vedantaflorida.com.