In 1997, at the age of 42, Dr. Donald Schnell’s life took a radical turn. He was summoned to India by his teacher and encountered the “deathless avatar” Babaji, and was initiated into one of the oldest spiritual traditions — “The Order of the Swamis.” He emerged from this experience with a new name, Prema Baba Swamiji.
Prema Baba and his wife Swamy Leelananda (Marilyn Diamond Schnell) will present “Awakening to Prema” September 8-9 in Minneapolis to offer guidance on next step of evolution, the process of transmuting lower, denser qualities into higher spiritual values.
In this interview, Prema Baba and his wife Swamy Leela talk about his mission and message.
In your book The Initiation, your experiences in India with Babaji reads more like an epic from a futuristic movie. Is this the totality of your journey in India or will there be a sequel to your book?
Prema Baba:There will definitely be a sequel. The reader response is: “We want More.” They want more Babaji. The hunger in this country from a soul level for the wisdom of the Masters, and particularly from one who has lived as long as Babaji, is needed.
Swamy Leela:He also talked about the richness we are seeking on the outside, that it can be found inside if we are willing to sit and go within. He says he is not asking for 15 minutes, not even 5 minutes, just take some time to honor the inner flame.
There is a huge awareness of Babaji in the Twin Cities. Although many people know of him, they will really appreciate meeting with someone who has had direct contact with him in the physical.
Prema Baba:It is true, we are ready as a nation for the Eastern wisdom that Babaji embodies. We also are coming out of an era of patriarchy, and too much emphasis on religion as something serious. Babaji bringsspiritualityas an art form, as living, breathing testimony of his youthfulness. It is very Indian.
Swamy Leela:It’s very contemporary, too, because there are more and more young people with this awareness that God is inside them and they have really not been given the opportunity to celebrate. Prema Baba’s mission is to teach them just that.
Prema Baba:Babaji wants us to celebrate! We are so caught up in modern-day living, where we have every technological innovation to make life easier, but instead of making life easier, we are slaves to the phone, fax, computer and the drug system.
Ourhealthis worse as a nation than ever before in our history. In spite of all our technology, we still haven’t discovered love.
Swamy Leela:Babaji actually said that Western society has been designed to crush the human heart, and many people are feeling the pressure. It’s an imbalance.
Prema Baba:It is time to open our hearts. We’ve become slaves to the government, the tax system with 50 percent of our earnings going to taxes. We feel almost like rats caught up in a treadmill of materialism. Babaji is saying, “Wait a minute, there is an antidote, and the antidote is to go to the spiritual. (The voice and accent of Prema Baba changes to that of an Indian when he says this).
That sounds so charming: It’s like Babaji talking through you.
Swamy Leela:But he does! And he always sounds very charming.
On your return from India, you experienced a major shift in all aspects of your life. How did you adjust to this?
Prema Baba:Some of the biggest shifts were the spiritual aspects of Babaji’s message. He wanted me to bring three principles to the West. Prema, Shanti and Ahimsa.
Prema is divine love, the highest love. It’s the love of a Mother for her child multiplied by 10 or 100. It’s the love of all creation.
Shanti is divine peace, to make a commitment to bring peace into our homes and into our bodies. Don’t worry about the whole world. Worry about yourself, to bring peace into your home and families is enough.
Ahimsa is non-violence, to make a commitment to move in more gentle loving and harmonious ways.
These three simple principles have had a profound effect on our lives and the lives of people who have come to our retreats and seminars.
These principles seem so relevant, especially with what is going with our lost children, who need guidance from the pressures of the present system.
Swamy Leela:They don’t look forward to life, as it is difficult and uninviting. It is time for parents to take stock and evaluate their present life styles and go through their own personal shifts to find a deeper purpose and meaning to life — to find a sense ofcommunityand to return to more basic and simpler values in life.
We find at our seminars a wide variance in age groups, from 15 to 80 years old. This is like the re-connecting of a tribe. Babaji calls these people the sweet souls, and he sent Prema Baba back to America in 1997 to find these sweet souls and bring them this nectar of immorality, the divine bliss that is the nature of life.
Very few Westerners have had encounters with Babaji. Who is this mysterious God-man and how old is he?
Prema Baba:Many Westerners have had some contact with Babaji at a spiritual level. When we call his name softly, we receive his blessings, his darshan and his grace. Babaji is a unique being. My experience with him was an overwhelming spiritual blessing.
I can’t compare him to spiritual teachers currently available in the United States. He is an experience. Babaji is at least 2,000 years old or older. Some say that he initiated the Master Jesus. He is well known in India as one of their oldest living saints. He continues to keep his body in an immortal state for his disciples, and he teaches the process of spiritual rejuvenation and regeneration. He says we can all achieve immortality — all of us. The moment we connect with the spiritual essence of our being, then we, too, can achieve the immortality he has achieved. He is not saying that he is the only one, but that we can all achieve this.
Swamy Leela:His body is very youthful. In Yogananda’s book The Autobiography of a Yogi, Babaji was represented around the age of 24. When Prema came back from India, he couldn’t talk about any of it initially for a long time. It took almost three years for him to come back fully. When we found this manuscript that he had written, he described Babjaji as looking younger than 24.
Prema Baba:He is more like a delicate beautiful plant than human. He has perfect teeth, his eyes are electric and his greatest quality is his laughter. Having seen photographs of him, he seemed so serious and deadpan, and yet he is just the opposite. He is full of humor, laughter and joy.
Why is it important to consider Babaji at this time and how can Babaji help each person in his or her life?
Prema Baba:Traditionally, Babaji has guided the spiritual spark of humanity and has kept the flame alive. His message now is that we can easily lose it within this era of materialism. The focus is not on Babaji, for the message is not about him. He is saying it is about YOU. We have to take the steps to activate the divine spark inside of us and to keep that flame nourished. Our responsibility as individuals and as society is to keep this legacy alive for future generations. It’s from ourspiritualitythat our highest, most noble creativity comes from. As a society, we need now to rise above the heights of The Great Pyramid in Egypt and Notre Dame Cathedral in France.
From all indications, it seems he has appointed you as his Viceroy — I get the word Viceroy from the reign of the British Raj. What is your mission?
Prema Baba:Well, it’s a beautiful term — we definitely feel that we show up for duty. I don’t want to give the impression that he is a dictator or governor. He is like a child. He is radiant, he is joy, he is a liberator — to free us from the slavery of materialism and instead to create and enjoy the fruits of materialism, to rise up to a higher level to know the joys ofspirituality.
In the book, where Babaji wanted me to touch people in the West, we bring his touch and some experience ecstatic, profound, mystical spiritual states.
Swamy Leela:He is actually touching through Babaji. When he reaches out, that touch is Babaji’s touch, and that is a very special moment in the seminar. We’re very clear that nothing in our lives happens without Babaji’s divine will.
You reference Yogananda’s book The Autobiography of a Yogi quite a lot. To what extent did it influence you?
Prema Baba:Firstly, the reading of this book for me as a child introduced me to Babaji. I prayed as a young child to see him. I thought my prayers had gone unanswered, until I met him in 1997. I always wanted to be a Yogi since then, instead of the usual ambitions that children have of being firemen, baseball players or even presidents.
I was raised in a very harsh miningcommunityon the border of Mexico with lots of ethnic tensions between the Native American population, the copper miners and the Hispanics. The Yoga Meditation offered me a way to touch my heart and nourish the side of me that wasn’t present in the 100-degree desert environment of Arizona.
That would have been very sustaining for you because of your frequency. Would you like to share some of your mystical experiences as a child?
Prema Baba:I remember at the age of 12, I was working with the process to stop the heart, to learn not to be afraid of death. I had succeeded in stopping my heart and was doing that in the quiet and comfort of my room when my stepmother opens the door, sees me in a trance and yells: “Donald! Get out of that trance!”
My heart went from zero beating to 200 miles per second and I thought surely I was going to die. It was a real test of my yogic practice in that moment. Yes, I did succeed in stopping my heart and losing my fear of death. In the second grade, I had the ability to literally pick up on the thoughts of my teachers and fellow students. I was able to tune into the brighter students during test time and receive the answers from their minds and put those answers into my tests and my grades were great.
In your initiation, as a Swami, you experienced Premananda. Is it difficult to attain that kind of bliss?
Prema Baba:In the seminar, we teach that it is possible to achieve the highest heaven in five minutes and even less. It depends on three principles: Attitude, belief and choice.
Babaji teaches that this is it: Right now we are in the Sea of God like fish in the ocean saying, “Where is God, where is the water, where is the water?” when we are already connected to the totality. To experience Prema (love), that’s a choice and an attitude we have to bring to the moment. Ananda is bliss. We can choose and believe that we are in divine purpose, that everything is in order — and the moment we align ourselves to that cosmos, this is it! Premananda is right here. We can create heaven on Earth. We can do this. That’s our choice, to live that truth, to live that teaching. That’s the message we bring to our seminars.
When I experienced Premananda with Babaji, I was a melted nothing! I was a silly being, giggling and laughing and crying, and weeping in nothing but golden light, love and bliss.
Swamy Leela: He asked Babaji if he would come to the West, and Babaji said: “I will travel through you, through your body. I can be anywhere at any time and I will put you into a yogic sleep while I complete the changes in your body. The spiritual changes are easy; the physical changes take a little longer.”
His feet went from size 9 to size 11 and this has not changed since then. When he left, he was a very strong body builder with a very slender, muscular body. When he returned, his swami robe protruded so far out that it filled the robe and he looked very pregnant. He was carrying the Upanishads (Indian sacred teachings). He then went into this yogic sleep where he was disconnected most of the time and in another place. I could not understand what was happening to him.
On his return, he wrote the story of being with Babaji. He did nothing but sob when he tried to read it to me. He was in such a state of pained separation. I had no knowledge of what was going on within him, until a year later when my daughter found the manuscript. He fully awakened on Feb. 4, 2001, and knew that he had to serve Babaji and knew he had to serve Babaji by bringing the great work to a new generation.
From listening to you, Swamy Leela, and having read The Initiation, you complement Prema Baba and enhance his missionary work. To what extent is your involvement in your husband’s mission?
Swamy Leela:It’s my life — I really enjoy the spiritual celebration of life.
Prema Baba:She more than enhances my work. Everything I have learned about love, I have learnt from her. She is really my greatest teacher. She brings the entire legacy of her 20 years of experience in thehealthfield. Babaji says that it is important to havehealthof the body to attain spiritualhealth. Leela brings that balance. It’s not just meditation. Exercise and proper eating is very important.
Your website discourses — tell us more about them.
Swami Leela:When he awakened from his yogic sleep, Prema Baba knew he needed to serve Babaji. He started writing at 3 in the morning and manifested an e-course on the transformation from human to Ashim. Ashim is the Kabalistic name for the next level of evolution. It means the divine qualities of the angels manifested in human form.
This course facilitates Babaji’s mandate to bring spiritual evolution to not millions but billions of people. How else could we do it except through the internet? That was the “Aha!” that Prema had on his birthday. It is exciting, because the retreats and the course support each other and keep the connection and the flow. We truly believe that we are creating conduits for God’s love on Earth through Babaji.
Prema Baba, is there a special message you have for our readers?
Prema Baba:[His voice and accent changes when he says this] Love is the way to God; Love is Happiness; Love is Singing and Dancing to God. Don’t make misery! Learn to Love; Worship Love; Contemplate Love; Cultivate Love; Honor Love; Find Love in yourself! Namaste!
Prema Baba’s workshop is September 8-9 in Minneapolis. For more details, contact Elizabeth at (952) 898-0654 or Sandi at (952) 898-5203, and read the Edge Ad. The book The Initiation is available at Present Moment at 36th and Grand in South Minneapolis. To reach Prema Baba and Swamy Leela, visit their website at www.Enlightenment101.com