NEW BERLIN — More than 200 people turned out Saturday to honor murdered yoga master Sudharman.
For 45 minutes they streamed steadily into the meeting room of the town's Integral Yoga Center, a former church. They filled the chairs, the floor space, the center aisle and stood along side and back walls.
"My dad would have loved this," Jonathan Fenton said. "He wanted to fill up this room so bad ... so he did it."
Sudharman, 70, formerly known as Joe Fenton, died at the hands of an assassin, who wrote e-mails about his plans to kill the yoga master beginning in May. None were ever reported to the police until it was too late.
Before an altar festooned with flowers and tributes of light, his son read a manifesto, of sorts, that his father wrote two years ago.
"My dream is to live in the light," he wrote. "The light of truth, health, peace, love. ... My dream is to express the center of light, build a center of light for the Susquehanna Valley, like Yogaville. ..."
Yogaville is a yoga-centered living, teaching and spiritual complex in Buckingham, Va.
But Sudharman had bigger dreams. He wrote that he wanted his center to serve not only this Valley, but "New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and the rest of the planet."
Eventually, he thought he would change the name of the Integral Yoga Center to the Sudharman Yoga Institute.
He noted he should market himself to New York City and involve "ants and cockroaches and billionaires and saints."
Ironically, it may have been at Yogaville that Sudharman met the man who would take his life.
A teacher at the Virgina complex, Swami Karunananda, told police she received e-mails from a man named Joel R. Snider, 33, whom she had known for 10 years, stating his intention to kill Sudharman. He gave extensive details of his thinking. The e-mails expressed the preference that "evil be utterly destroyed wherever it is lurking."
Snider did not explain what evil he thought Sudharman had done.
Sudharman was found at the Integral Yoga Center on Monday, dead of multiple gunshot wounds from a small caliber weapon. Snider was apprehended by police in Maryland two days later.
Snider had also expressed his desire to kill celebrated writer, publisher, enlightenment guru Andrew Cohen, founder of What is Enlightenment? magazine, now called EnlightenNext. Police warned Cohen before Snider was captured.
Second target 'sends love'
Cohen sent an e-mail to the memorial service for Sudharman. It was read by Swami Rammananda of New York, who conducted the ceremony.
"I send you my heartfelt love and condolences on this day when you gather in memory of a man I never met, but now feel infinitely bonded to through his untimely death," Cohen wrote.
"From everything I have come to learn over the past two days, Sudharman appears to have been a truly great soul — a courageous man who, once he found enlightenment, became a beacon of compassion and inspiration for all who came in contact with him."
Many who had that contact spoke at the memorial service.
There was Union County District Attorney D. Peter Johnson, confined to a wheelchair, who said one of the most important things Sudharman gave him was a concept of bad things — challenges and struggles — being "just God loving you more."
"It's kind of hard when you're in excruciating pain," Johnson said, but "He gave me the ability to do what was necessary to work ... to love yourself."
People stood up and told how Sudharman helped them through their illnesses and injuries; taught them to reduce stress, induce calm. He gave them the gift of his time, made them feel like family.
Patricia Sterner, founder of the Valley School of Healing Arts in Port Trevorton, said Sudharman taught her to live within the moment.
"We all make mistakes," she said. "Forgiveness and going on in a better way is most important."
Yoga master loved animals
Sterner's daughter said Sudharman touched many lives, and didn't stop with people. He loved animals, too, she said, showing interest in their rescue mission.
Under Sudharman's words "Serve All, Love All," emblazoned on the Integral Yoga Center wall beside the altar, the Rev. Bhagavan Metro, of Virginia's Yogaville, pointed out that most people can't do that much.
"But," he said, "he would say 'Pledge to do one good deed' —something in the next day or two."
When you do that, he said, pay attention to how it makes you feel.
"Once we get a taste of that sweetness," Metro said, "we'll be like Sudharman. Try that. It works."
Sudharman's daughter, Lila Heasley, said she's grateful she had her father as long as she did.
"As long as I knew him, his message was the same," she said. "We are all one. The light is inside you."
She said she knew his dream would come together, even if he didn't envision it "like this."
Sudharman's "dream" essay told that he would like to create everything from a not-for-profit child care center to an organic farm to a retirement home, crematorium and "green" cemetery, perhaps utilizing Fenton farmland near West Milton.
It includes, Heasley said, plans for his 108th birthday in 38 years.
"He planned it a long time ago," she said. "I hope you'll all come."
Another of his dreams, said Keri Albright, of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, was to get every local, state, federal and world leader doing yoga. Applause greeted her suggestion that, with elections upcoming in the fall, we should all look into "the yoga credentials" of our candidates.
Union County Commissioner John Showers said he first met Sudharman as Joe Fenton, who "was trying to sell me a private prison."
Later, he said, he heard he moved to his town, New Berlin, to open the Integral Yoga Center in the former church — which he knew as a boy as the sewing machine factory. Showers said the building always made him recall the sound of sewing machines.
Then Sudharman became part of New Berlin as well as part of the yoga community.
"He touched people here," Showers said. "After today, I'll no longer hear sewing machines. I'll hear the chanting that went on today."
There was chanting in the nearly two-hour service. And moments of quiet meditation. At one point everyone sang Sudharman's favorite song — "Row, row, row, your boat ... Gently down the stream ... Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily ... Life is but a dream."
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