(This article was written by Anneli Rufus of the East Bay Express, Arts & Culture Section, Dec 2010)
One day 22 years ago, a former hippie threw her shorn hair into the Ganges, said her final monastic vows, and never looked back. Swami Mangalananda describes herself as “a WASP from Wisconsin,” but she’s also a Hindu nun and the secretary of Badarikashrama (15602 Maubert Ave., San Leandro).
“My interest in non-Western philosophies began in high school and continued through the Sixties,” she said. “I became a vegetarian. I listened to Indian music. By dressing in Madras clothes and Indian jewelry and living communally, a lot of us in those days were imitating the people of Eastern cultures without completely realizing it. I went through a very strong Christian phase, then an agnostic phase. I was disenchanted with religion, yet I had spiritual longings and altered states of consciousness and a lot of spiritual experiences — not just from drugs.”
A devoted peace activist and civil-rights campaigner, “I developed a very strong attachment for Mahatma Gandhi, and that attachment stayed with me,” Mangalananda said. “I didn’t become a yuppie. Sometimes I actually chose poverty.”
While living in San Leandro and studying health education at San Francisco State University, she wandered into Badarikashrama one day. It was the first Hindu temple she’d ever visited. Immediately inspired by its founder, Swami Omkarananda, she began working at the ashram, taking classes, and becoming first a student monk, then a full nun. She stuck with it. In 1997, Omkarananda transferred her to Badarikashrama’s fifty-acre sister ashram in Madihalli, India.