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Cherry religious center to host Swamiji for yoga conference

| Saturday, June 14, 2014, 5:42 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The Universal Datta Temple at the Jesus Datta Retreat Center in West Sunbury is adorned with symbols and deities from a handful of world religions, as seen on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. In the back of the temple behind the altar hangs a photo of sadguru Sri Swamiji, whose teachings inspired the founding of the retreat over 25 years ago. 'His whole nature is universal,' explained Center Manager Padma Phyllisturk, stating that he teaches 'spiritual truths that traverse all religions.'

Nestled in the woods off a gravel road by Moniteau High School in Cherry is a multi-faith center founded by an Indian spiritual leader.

The quiet of the Jesus Datta Retreat Center will give way to activity June 19 to 22 as the center hosts the 2014 International Datta Kriya Yoga Conference, expected to attract about 150 people who will take yoga courses and study with their guru, Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji, the leader and creator of Datta Kriya yoga.

“He promotes harmony and unity among people,” said John Laird, executive director of the center, a volunteer position.

The 72-year-old Swamiji has many centers and ashrams throughout the world, but his main one is in Mysore, India. He's known internationally for his Hindi devotional songs, of which he's written thousands, said Laird, of Regent Square.

The Butler County facility got its start in 1986 when Swamiji was touring the U.S. looking for a location to build a center, and devotee Phyllis “Padma” Turk offered land she owned in Cherry.

When Swamiji toured it, he found three large rocks embedded in the ground that he claimed emanated powerful energy, Laird said. Finding the rocks solidified his belief that a center should be there, Laird said.

The center, which sits on about 50 acres, has a temple, unity hall, prayer hall, kitchen and dormitory, and cottages for Turk, the center's manager who lives there year-round, and Swamiji when he visits, Laird said.

The temple in 1998 was the first building to go up, and it was built around one of the rocks, Turk said. The temple contains symbols from world religions to reflect the center's universal nature and Swamiji's teachings, Turk said, and the rocks serve as a focal point.

“His teachings and what he offers are spiritual truths that transverse all religions,” Turk said.

People are welcome to visit the center to worship or meditate any time, Laird said, and it's used by Indian devotees to celebrate traditional Indian festivals throughout the year. The center is funded entirely from donations, and Turk, 65, is its only employee.

Since May, volunteers from across the East Coast have helped landscape, paint and clean the buildings and grounds for the conference and Swamiji's arrival, Turk said.

The 2014 Datta Kriya Yoga Conference is the first gathering of its kind in Butler County, Laird said. This will be the first time in about 15 years that Swamiji has visited the area to teach, officials said.

Datta Kriya yoga is unique for its accessibility and practicality for all people, said Rosemary Nulty, a yoga teacher from Sarasota, Fla. It focuses on a specific series of controlled breathing exercises, called pranayamas, and you don't need to be physically fit or able to control your breath, Nulty said.

“Yoga gives you a focus point, like your breath, and by giving you something to focus on all that stuff in life falls aside,” she said. “It's just going to help you go deeper into your own truths and own beliefs.”

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or

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