Monday, April 21, 2008

Book Launch in Rome

Dear Everyone:

Now that the Rome event is over, and shared with you, I can fill in with other bits and pieces of news from our time here with Swamiji.

We arrived in Rome last Wednesday from America; Swamiji drove down from Assisi and arrived in the afternoon. He was full of energy and enthusiasm for the (at that time) upcoming event.

His original plan had been to be in Italy only for one month (January), return to India for the Mahasamadhi celebration in March, then back to Italy in time for this program. But the importance of the event in Rome, combined with the need to convalesce from his surgery at the end of last year, led to the decision to stay in Italy and avoid the stress of extra travel.

It was obvious when he arrived in Rome that it was the right decision. Also, the additional time of relative seclusion at his home in Assisi not only healed his body, but also gave him time to focus on this event.

It is difficult for us to full appreciate the importance of events such as this one. In The Path, Swamiji writes of that moment at the garden party at Beverly Hills when Master spoke of the need for communities. Swamiji describes it as the most powerful talk he had ever heard, saying he wouldn't have been surprised if "legions of angels" had descended from heaven to carry out Master's wishes.

Swamiji committed himself at that moment to do his utmost to manifest Master's vision of "World Brotherhood Colonies." Sometimes we date the founding of Ananda from that garden party. Swamiji has commented that, despite the power of Master's words, it seems no one else among the hundreds who heard Master speak on that day responded as Swamiji did.

In that same speech Master declared with the full force of his divine consciousness, "My words are registered in the ether and they shall move the West."

Such a declaration from a Self-realized soul is not offered lightly! His word is binding on the universe. But probably very few in that crowd were able to see what a mighty force was being unleashed.

Swamiji has spoken of the great importance of this talk in Rome, and also the launch of Revelations in English in Los Angeles last summer. One can't help but wonder, in the years, decades, and centuries to come, how these events will be viewed.

At his talk on Saturday, Swamiji spoke of how little the ego can accomplish on its own, and how much the infinite can accomplish through us if we make ourselves "zero" as Swamiji put it. To become "Brother Zero," Swamiji said,
to the great delight (and applause) of the audience.

Later, Swamiji also said that it seems in some ways God has to reduce everything first to zero so it can then be built up again in a divine way. The crucifixion of Christ is certainly a good example. It was not exactly what his disciples were expecting! They knew from their own experience the divine power of Jesus and they naturally expected that in some way that power would express itself in a way the world would see during their lifetime and his.

Instead, Jesus was arrested, tortured, crucified. Of course, after three days he resurrected, which affirmed the faith of those who believed. But still, from a worldly point of view, the mission of Jesus seemed to end in nothing at all.

In fact, God was just reducing it to zero so it could be built up in a divine way.

The zero point in Swamiji's life was when he was expelled from SRF in 1962. It was 14 years since he had become a disciple. In those years Swamiji had already accomplished a great deal in service to Master. He was the head of the monks, the main teacher for SRF, head of the center department, vice-president of SRF, and was about to accomplish great things in India.

Then, suddenly, it was all taken away. He found himself at the age of 36, living with his parents, separated from the life he had been living since he met Master at the age of 22. He was penniless and alone. All he had -- which
turned out to be all he needed -- was his discipleship to Master and the commitment he had made to serve his Guru's mission.

All of Ananda came from that seeming zero.

In one of the interviews before the Rome event, someone asked Swamiji, "How do you obtain purity of heart?" Swamiji replied (among other things) to "follow the example of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita." What he was referring to is Krishna's guidance of "nishkam karma," which means "action without any
desire for the fruits of action." In other words, complete surrender to God.

Become "Brother Zero" is one way to think about it. Doing what we do only as a service to God and leaving everything else in His hands. So often, Swamiji also said at the Rome event, what appears to us to be tragedy turns out to be God's greatest blessing.

In a recent essay on self-confidence, Swamiji says that he has never had any confidence in himself, but he has had limitless confidence in God. To be "Brother Zero" is something Swamiji has learned from first-hand experience.

On our way from the hotel to the Theater Valle where the program was held on Saturday, the taxi drove by the outside walls of "Vatican City" as it is called. Massive stone walls surrounding the many equally massive stone buildings that over the centuries have been built as the world center for the Catholic Church.

Even though Theater Valle was impressive, the whole edifice and all those attending could have been dropped in the corner of Vatican City and hardly made an impression.

In his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Swamiji speaks of how, on the material plane, for most people consciousness is primarily focused outwardly, through the senses. So much so, that most people think that
reality itself is defined by what the senses perceive. Only gradually does the awareness dawn that the origin point of consciousness is within.

On the astral plane, Swamiji explains, there is a much greater awareness of inner consciousness. The external world is seen to be "streaming energy" that forms and re-forms in ever changing ways.

And on the causal plane, one sees that thought and consciousness itself is the only reality.

So there we were in Rome -- the massive material power of the Vatican on one side, and Swamiji's message from Master on the other. The request of Jesus to Babaji to send a messenger to the West to re-establish true Christianity, and centuries of "Churchianity" on the other. Most interesting!

A few other interesting bits and pieces:

In a radio interview before the event, Swamiji was asked, "What do you think of the Pope?" Swamiji responded, "He looks to the past." This was not meant as a compliment (that was clear from other things Swamiji said) although later we thought the Pope might take it as a compliment!

At the Rome event, Swamiji said, "I was raised an Episcopalian, but if I had been a Catholic, and had never met Master, I would have been ex-communicated by now." This remark was also met with laughter, then applause.

One of those honored with the gift of a book and CD by Swamiji at the end of the program was a man who is starting a new political party in Italy. The man is a close devotee of Satya Sai Baba and he is starting the party at Baba's request. It is a political party based on spiritual principles. He is calling it the Lotus Party.

The man had come to visit Swamiji earlier. Swamiji was very supportive of the project, saying it is exactly what is needed, an entirely new approach to politics. His advice was simply, "Don't ever give up your principles." Virtually everyone who goes into politics eventually feels the need to compromise in some way to gain power with the thought that once they have power they will be able to do more good. Swamiji said, that is a delusion. Once principles are compromised your power to do good is also lost. "Don't compromise," Swamiji said. "The most important thing is love," Swamiji also told him.

The man assured Swamiji that his feet are on the ground but his heart is with the spirit and he was doing this only in obedience to Satya Sai Baba.

In his talks and interviews, Swamiji often spoke of the image of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel -- a powerful man-like figure, creating Adam, and, in another section, condemning sinners to eternal hell. (Michaelangelo painted the faces of many of his own enemies on those being condemned to hell!).

In one conversation, Swamiji described the painting as "Good art, but bad philosophy."

In his Rome talk, when speaking of the importance of not thinking of ourselves as sinners, Swamiji said, "Do you think God cares about our sins? It is simply understood that it will take us incarnations to learn our lessons. We are predisposed toward sin in that all our senses are pointed outwards. We are born with an appetite for the pleasures of the senses. God made us this way and He knows it will take time for us to learn."

And one last lovely moment:

In the hotel in Rome, one of the restaurant managers came up to me on the second day and asked if we were part of some kind of a group. Then he mentioned "Paramhansa Yogananda." He said he had read the Autobiography a few years earlier and it turned his life around completely. He went to India to study for several years (as part of his university degree).

I explained that a direct disciple of Master was there in the hotel. I introduced him to Shivani and others from the Assisi community.

Later, when he was introduced to Swamiji, Swamiji said, "When I saw you the first time here I was very attracted to your face." The man replied, "And I am very attracted to yours."

So Master works to find his devotees everywhere.

Joy to you,
Assisi, Italy

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