The moment you step onto the lushly landscaped grounds of the Hindu monastery tucked away at the end of a residential street in Wailua Homesteads on Kauai’s Eastside, hundreds of feet above the rushing Wailua River, you are overcome with a feeling that everything you want is possible.
That’s because the nearly two dozen monks who call this monastery home provide us living proof that when we have a vision of what we want, possibilities exist beyond what we can see with our eyes.
From the unlikely purchase of their Kauai property, to obtaining one of the world’s largest uncut crystals for their temple – a crystal that supposedly did not exist – and establishing a worldwide publishing enterprise that connects Hindus around the planet from their headquarters here on Kauai, the monks of this monastery gift to the world the understanding that all of us can accomplish things that on the surface may appear impossible.
A delightful man named Paramacharya Sadasivanatha Palaniswami, now one of the monastery’s leaders, joined this order of monks 48 years ago when the group was still located in California and Nevada. With a lively sense of humor and dancing eyes, Palaniswami tells the story of how this Hindu monastery found its home on Kauai in 1969 and how, as a young man, he learned the power of having a vision.
“In a sense we were divinely guided to Kauai,” Palaniswami says. “In the 1960s, Gurudeva, the founder of this monastery, had been looking all over the world for where he was going to establish his world headquarters. We looked in India, other parts of Asia and in Switzerland.”
In December 1968, the monks and 27 students were preparing for a three-week retreat at Hana Ranch on Maui. A couple weeks before their arrival, a huge windstorm on Maui caused trees to fall and block the only road that led to the ranch.
“Someone from the ranch called and said that they were sorry but we would not be able to get there. Gurudeva said to me, ‘People have sold their guitars, their Volkswagen buses and taken vacation time for this retreat and we want to fulfill that for them. Find someplace, anyplace in Hawaii,’” Palaniswami says.
Fortuitously, Palaniswami placed a call to an Air France executive on Kauai who told him of a small hotel named the Tropical Inn in Wailua Homesteads. “He said it was a little bit rustic, but that didn’t scare us off. We were a yoga group and that sounded kind of cool. We booked it sight unseen.” The monks held their retreat successfully on Kauai, then returned to California.
One year later, after traveling around the world for 13 weeks with 65 students, the study team was happy but exhausted. Gurudeva suggested they take a few days of rest on Kauai, and stayed in Poipu on the island’s South Shore. While there, Gurudeva suggested they visit the little hotel in Wailua where they had stayed the prior year.
The monks drove to Wailua and looked around the Tropical Inn. “There wasn’t really much to see in those days,” Palaniswami says. “It was very overgrown, you could not see the river through the hau bush, but you could hear it below. You wouldn’t recognize what we saw compared to what is here now.”
monastery for us
As they drove the 45 minutes back to Poipu, “Gurudeva didn’t say a word about what might have been on his mind,” Palaniswami says. “A few hours after we got back to Poipu, he asked me to come to his room. He said, ‘I think you should go back to that place and ask them if they would sell it because I think it would make a wonderful monastery for us.’
“I was in my early 20s, very little worldly experience, but I did know that if a property wasn’t for sale, you didn’t go up and ask to buy their house. In fact I told Gurudeva that,” Palaniswami says. “He said, ‘Just go ahead and ask them if they would sell it.’”
So Palaniswami drove the 45 minutes back up to Wailua and asked then-owner retired Col. Albert Roesch if he was interested in selling his property. Roesch answered, “Absolutely not. It’s not for sale.”
The young monk drove back to Poipu and reported Col. Roesch’s response. After a brief moment, Gurudeva instructed Palaniswami to return to the hotel, to acknowledge the property wasn’t for sale, but to ask if it were for sale, just theoretically, how much the owner would want for it.
“I got in the car and drove back to Wailua and said, ‘I’m back again. I know that you don’t have this for sale, but if you were to sell it, how much would it be? My guru sent me. Just make up a number.’ Col. Roesch said, ‘It would be a crazy number. It would be $300,000 or more.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s all I need.’ Because I knew that $300,000 was like if he had told me today it would be $30 million. It was an impossible number.”
When Palaniswami returned to Poipu and reported to Gurudeva, he was instructed to return to Wailua once more and tell the owner that $300,000 was too much but that the monastery could buy the property for $165,000.
“I was not at all understanding what Gurudeva obviously understood, that there was some sensible purpose to all of this,” Palaniswami says, laughing now at the memory. “I felt like maybe I was being tested.”
Dutifully Palaniswami returned to the hotel for the fourth time that day and presented the owner with the monastery’s $165,000 offer. “I was just waiting for him to show me the door, but he didn’t show me the door. Col. Roesch said almost immediately, ‘Let me talk to my wife.’”
Within about six weeks, the monastery purchased the property and moved in on Feb. 5, 1970.
All are welcome
Over the years, the monastery has expanded its holdings to 382 acres, all cared for by the monks.
“The way I look at it now, we were given this land to take care of and to be stewards of it,” Palaniswami says. “It was seven acres at the time with four buildings, the main one built in 1929. Then, of course, we spent 45 years fixing it up. It’s been the ultimate in sweat equity.”
Together the monks of Kauai’s Hindu monastery have created a sanctuary consisting of two small temples and acres of sacred gardens where people of all faiths are welcomed and viewed as the perfect souls the monks believe us all to be.
• Pamela Varma Brown is the publisher of “Kauai Stories,” and the forthcoming “Kauai Stories 2,” which will include a much more detailed story about the Hindu Monastery, including the birth and growth of their publishing empire and the story of how they found their huge crystal.