New Times: I hope you're happy. Ever since I booked this interview, I've been walking around the house singing, "Swami, How I love ya, How I love ya, My dear old Swami!"
Swami Dâ Prem: (Stares, says nothing.)
NT: Do you know that song?
Dâ Prem: No. Is it a song about a swami?
NT: No. It's . . . never mind. So, should I call you Swami?
Dâ Prem: Swami. Yeah. That's fine. People sometimes call me Prem, which is part of my spiritual name. Swami is just my title, but it's very formal to call someone that.
NT: Did you used to have a different name?
Dâ Prem: I still have my legal name. It's John Mitchell. I prefer Swami.
NT: So you're America's youngest swami. How do we know there isn't one younger than you?
Dâ Prem: I'm 24. Typically swamis don't become swamis until later in life, and it wasn't until this century that Americans or anybody outside of India were allowed to become swamis. My guru is very up on who's who in the swami world, he corresponds with one of the pontiffs, and so when he says I'm the youngest one he knows what he's saying.
NT: I thought swamis wore turbans and had paste jewels stuck to their foreheads.
Dâ Prem: Well, sometimes they do. A lot of them used to. The traditional swami wears a saffron robe, but the order I belong to chose this brown.
NT: It's very nice. It seems to have a built-in sash. Is that significant?
Dâ Prem: It's the traditional look of the swami, except with a more modern twist. And it's in an earth tone, which is important. My guru wanted me to have a long robe down to here, so that walking down the street it kind of looks fun.
NT: What do swamis do?
Dâ Prem: We teach whatever our selected path is. Mine is Brahman-Atman yoga.
NT: Is that like Pilates?
Dâ Prem: No! We do some of the postures, but those are secondary things. We're more about the evolution of the individual, going from a lower state of consciousness to a higher one.
NT: So your students aren't there to learn how to put their ankles behind their head.
Dâ Prem: It's more about meditation. But I get asked that a lot.
NT: How does one become a swami?
Dâ Prem: When another swami ordains you one. No swami can give himself the title. There's a swami training, and when your guru thinks you're ready, he gives you a test. Mine was I had to fast for seven days and meditate about why I was here on this Earth. The first three days were the hardest. But then my body became lighter.
NT: That's because it didn't have any food in it, I'll bet.
Dâ Prem: Fasting isn't that difficult. I was confident I would make it because I'd fasted for 21 days before. Fasting makes it clear what your path will be.
NT: After not eating for seven days, my path would lead straight to Whataburger. Okay, so what were you before?
Dâ Prem: I considered myself a yogi. I meditated every day, but I didn't have the knowledge I have now. But I'm still just like anyone else, really. I'm just a regular guy.
NT: A regular guy with a funny name and a saffron robe! Plus you don't own a lot. I thought swamis renounce everything material, but you have a computer, and you live in an apartment with curtains and an air conditioner. I thought you guys all lived in caves.
Dâ Prem: Well, renunciation is kind of a funny thing, because you're cutting yourself off from everything, including social interaction. Which leads you to wonder, "Why did God put all these things here if we're supposed to renounce them?" You have to interact with people to exchange energies. If you move into a cave, you're cutting yourself off from that, and other experiences that you're meant to have.
NT: So what do you do with your longing for physical things?
Dâ Prem: I don't really have them. Everything you see here is something I need. I've got a computer, yeah, and a radio, but not a very good one. I'm mostly worried about getting along in life, putting a roof over my head. I spend money, but because I'm a swami, I try to do everything as frugally as possible. Because if swamis have money left over, we can use that money to do something good for someone else.