John Stewart

Founder & Chairman
John was introduced to Asian philosophy and spirituality at the age of fifteen. Intrigued and eager to experience more than his comfortable western existence could offer, he left home at age 16. After 7 years in North American and Europe, he arrived in the jungles of northern India, somewhat doubtful and anxious about what lay ahead. His yogi master greeted him with a slap in the face and a question; “what took you so long?” With that greeting, as strange as it may sound, all thoughts of anxiety and doubt slipped effortlessly from John’s mind. This incident speaks volumes about the depth of John’s capacity for surrender, service and love.

John spent his first year in India living in a cave beside a Himalayan river. During this year and the following 15, he embraced a traditional yogi lifestyle that taught him the values of truth, simplicity, love and sanatana (eternal) dharma, and developed qualities of patience and discipline. John’s instinctive ability to recognise authenticity, which was honed during the time with his master, was the foundation for the initial stage of John’s post-ashram life. When he left the ashram in 1993, he became a successful art dealer and settled for some years in Kathmandu.  

A regular visitor to Thailand since 1977, John returned to Thailand in 2000 with health problems. He was drawn by the healing nature of Koh Samui and stayed four months to rest and regain his health with the help of local herbs and his, by then, wife Karina. It was during this visit that he found the site for Kamalaya. The land, a densely forested landscape studded with ancient granite boulders, immediately captivated him. Walking the tropical jungle terrain reminded him of his years in northern India, a memory that became even more vivid and significant when he came upon a cave that was once used as a place of meditation and spiritual retreat for a lineage of Buddhist monks. Serendipity had provided the place for him and Karina to build their dream.

John’s defining view of business as a medium of cultural exchange, worthy only of projects that ‘make a difference’, is central to Kamalaya’s creation. Kamalaya unfolds from a learned truth – that happiness comes from giving - and combines John’s wish to both communicate spiritual teachings in a way that is easily understood, and share with others the healing power of nature and the joy of community.