Updated: Dec 7, 2021
By Theresa King
Two curious Americans, Justin O’Brien and Theresa King, met Swami Rama of the Himalayas in 1972, just after returning from two years of study in Europe. Dr. O’Brien was a professor of theology at Loyola University of Chicago, and Ms. King was a Montessori teacher in Chicago. They were both immediately initiated into the Himalayan Tradition by Swami Rama and asked to join in his work.
Justin soon became one of the foremost teachers at the national headquarters of the Himalayan Tradition in Glenview, Illinois and all its affiliated centers across the country, while Theresa became Swamiji’s personal assistant. She also began the Himalayan Publishers publishing house to spread the tradition’s teachings. In 1976 Justin found a large property in Pennsylvania for the national headquarters. He and Theresa, together with many other staff members and students, joined Gurudev in residence there. Justin initiated the Master of Arts program affiliated with the University of Scranton, and also continued to lecture nationally. Theresa advanced the institute’s publishing arm with many books and periodicals until Swami Rama left the United States for Nepal in 1982 and called them both to join him in the East.
Justin and Theresa were sent to Japan, Nepal, and India to teach and produce international conferences on yoga and spirituality. In 1987 Justin was invited to join the faculty of the University of London Medical School as well as the staff of the Marylebone Holistic Health Centre, endorsed by Prince Charles and Dr. Pietroni, a student of Swami Rama. Theresa was sent to the States to teach yoga and open another publishing house to continue Gurudev’s work through the written word.
Teaching from an apartment in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Theresa (now named Ma Devi by Gurudev) began the Alpha Institute and Yes International Publishers for publishing. Justin completed his work in London in 1988, returned to the States, taught at the Aveda Corporation and the University of Minnesota. He took preliminary vows of renunciation and celibacy in a small church in Saint Paul. He and Theresa expanded their teaching of hatha yoga, meditation, and yoga philosophy. They also created and directed holistic health conferences in St. Paul for three years.
In 1991 the two were joined by Charles Bates (Yogi Achala), another student of Swami Rama who previously had directed the Twin Cities Yoga Society. A larger property was purchased on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, and the three moved there. After receiving instructions and blessings from Swami Rama, the center continued to grow. It changed its name to the Institute of the Himalayan Tradition after the mahasamadhi of Gurudev in 1999. In November of 1999 Justin became Swami Jaidev Bharati on the banks of the Ganges River at Swami Rama’s ashram in Rishikesh.
The center became involved in assisting the Himalayan Hospital of Swami Rama outside Dehradun, India in running yoga conferences. Joint conferences were held in India and in Minnesota, giving all profits to the hospital. The inauguration of the new journal on yogic spirituality, Himalayan Path, in 2000 continued the linking of the tradition with Gurudev’s centers in passing on the tradition’s wisdom.
In 2003 Swami Hariharananda of the Himalayas, a close disciple of Swami Rama, joined the Institute’s faculty together with Maynard Speece (Manuraj) who accepted the position of president of the non-profit organization. Yogi Achala left IHT that year. In 2008 Ma Devi took vows of renunciation. The two swamis are spiritual directors of the Institute and continue the work of Swami Rama.
Ma Devi at the Summit Avenue Institute