Letters from Asha
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
(You will not be surprised by the following announcement: This is a long letter. The usual advice applies: Relax and enjoy.)
Today we leave for Europe, flying to London, where we will spend the night, then on to Milan. The devotees from Assisi will meet us there and drive us to Lugano, Switzerland, about 1.5 hours away, where we will vacation for about 5 days with most of Swamiji’s staff from India, and the leaders of Ananda Assisi.
Swamiji is very much looking forward to having a little vacation time. It is hot here, and the weather is perfect in Lugano. Next to the lake, there is a flower garden which should be in full spring bloom. A delightful prospect after all these months in India.
In the last couple of days, we’ve had two dust storms. Delhi is built in the middle of a desert. Desert is not the first thing you think of driving down the streets, lined with big buildings bearing the names of multinational corporations. But Nature follows her own rhythms, no matter what Man imposes on top if it, and there is plenty of undeveloped land from which the wind can pick up sufficient dust to create, well, quite a dust-up!
In the last few years especially, building has been going forward at a fevered pace, including a rapid transit system between here and Delhi that could transform this whole area. Traffic makes going even relatively short distances dicey at best. “Caught in traffic” is the most common reason people arrive anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours late for appointments and events.
I was making a “quick trip to the mall,” usually a simple matter of 10 minutes. But a bus had broken down in the road and we sat twice that long just trying to crawl past the snarl created by the blocking of one lane. And this wasn’t even rush hour.
Because we are leaving today, I really wanted to give you the last of the India experience before we change venues.
I’ll start with Swamiji’s birthday.
The main celebration was set for the evening, so the day was kept quiet, so as not to tax Swamiji’s energy. He turned 83 on the 19th, and, as he puts it, by any measure that is a significant age. Like many people who live into their elder years, he doesn’t recommend getting old! Physically, it is a nuisance. Simple tasks like going upstairs—this house is on three levels, although Swamiji only uses two of them now—requires will power just to get the body to respond. In fact, somewhat to his annoyance, everyone in the house keeps a lookout and he seldom goes up or down those stairs without someone walking with him to insure his safety. Even Swamiji describes himself at times as “an accident waiting to happen.” Everyone near Swamiji is determined that that accident is not going to happen.
Spiritually, though, looking into Swamiji’s eyes and seeing the same blissful expression on his face not matter where he is or what his body may be doing, makes one eager to follow in Swamiji’s footsteps, even if those footsteps are slower now than they were in the more physically dynamic years.
For those of us who have known Swamiji through many phases of his life, it is deeply touching to see him at this age.
When I first met him, Swamiji was in his early forties. His enormous will power expressed in every gesture. He has always been considered in his actions, not at all impulsive, even when he was younger. No matter what was going on around him, even at times when everyone else was tensely rushing around to accomplish a project or move the group on to the next venue, Swamiji would always move in his own rhythm. Not necessarily more slowly, just calmly, from his center. He has never allowed outward conditions to define him.
Still, with his enormous energy and will power, he moved with great strength and often walked at such a quick pace one had to scurry to keep up with him. In the book about him, I tell the story of going to Disneyland with him in the early 70s (when it was still more innocent and Swamiji enjoyed being there). Some of you may remember how I described the dozen or so of us who were with him scurrying along like little goslings, holding hands so we wouldn’t get separated in the crowd, scrambling to keep up with him.
Now Swamiji is a divine elder. Looking only at this face, even with the physical signs of age, advanced age is not the impression one receives. Looking at him is looking at a consciousness rooted in eternity.
But his movements are those of a refined soul of 83 years. Careful, slow, often needing assistance—“A crane would be useful,” Swamiji has suggested at times, as he focuses his will power on the effort needed to get out of a soft chair.
His upcoming trip to Italy is filled with important public events. The latest book, Religion in the New Age has been published in Italian and there will be a celebratory launch of that book in Rome and also in Milan. He has the possibility of many far-reaching media interviews, plus devotees from all over Europe will be coming to Assisi to see him.
His play, The Peace Treaty, has been translated into Italian and is being performed again this year. It has been done before, but mostly at the Assisi Ananda center. This year it will be in Teatro Valle in Rome, the same venue where Revelations of Christ was launched last year, and where the new book launch will be held this year. It is a most prestigious venue—the theater is older than the U.S.A. So it is a great satisfaction for Swamiji to have the play performed there.
Those who travel with Swamiji confirm what Swamiji himself says, that whenever he is about to channel a great flow of divine light out to the world—as he will in Italy—the dark force—Satan—tries desperately (because it never works!) to keep Swamiji from his God-appointed task. Usually the effort to stop him is by weakening his physical body. Swamiji has been weaker than we would like, but our hope is that once he arrives in Europe—in other words, once the transition is done and the dark force sees, one again, that Master has triumphed—we hope he will become stronger and can enjoy Lugano completely.
So, back to May 19: in order to keep Swamiji’s energy for the evening, the day itself was quiet.
Sangeeta, one of the Indian devotees from the ashram here, arrived early, with many beautiful flower arrangements, which we put all over the house. Swamiji had not yet emerged from his room and we wanted there to be a sense of celebration for him when he came out.
Sangeeta also brought bags of rose petals, and in the Indian way of decorating, went all around the house creating simple patterns on the floor and in the corners of the rooms with piles and piles of rose petals. It was beautiful, harmonious, and with all the bouquets, made the house festive and fragrant.
Swamiji was, of course, delighted with all the flowers and it made the day feel from the start like a great celebration.
Usually, Swamiji takes his meals alone, but this being a special day a few of us shared breakfast. No cake, no singing of Happy Birthday yet—that would come in the evening. Lila and Nirmala had bought croissants the day before, to distinguish this day from the usual breakfast. The conversation was light, but underneath, all of us were aware of the significance of Swamiji’s life, for ourselves, for Master, for countless souls now and in the future. Continuously, between munching croissants and eggs, inwardly we gave thanks to God and Master for Swamiji’s long and fruitful life, and for the privilege of sharing it.
The evening celebration was held in a venue just 10 minutes from Guru Kripa—very convenient for Swamiji. Many of the housing developments also include a clubhouse or community center. One of the devotees arranged to use the building in her area of the DLF development, where Guru Kripa is also located.
You can see photos of that event that Daya Taylor took: http://picasaweb.google.com/dayataylor/SwamiSBirthday19May09#
Devotees had given Swamiji some luminous orange silk fabric, which a local devotee friend, who has a tailor shop, had stitched for Swamiji into a new set of clothes for this event.
Mostly his clothes are completely plain, but to these she added a subtle band of ribbon with gold thread around the neck and sleeves. With the luminosity of the silk, plus that touch of gold, Swamiji was glowing from the outside as well as the inside.
Before we left home, Swamiji was a little uncertain about this outfit, since it was brighter than he usually wears, asking whether he was wearing it or it was wearing him. And, sitting quietly upstairs, there was no clear answer.
But as soon as Swamiji stepped out of the car at the venue, and saw all the smiling faces standing outside the hall to greet him, and Master’s energy flowed from him like a river of grace, the luminosity of the clothes became a perfect expression of his own consciousness.
The hall itself held several hundred people, and it was filled to the walls. It was arranged that Swamiji would arrive at a certain time, so many people had come out of the hall to greet him as soon as he drove up.
Because the entry doors were wide and made of glass, one could see the whole hall from outside. At the far wall a huge altar had been put in place, with a gigantic arch of flowers extending above the pictures of the Masters, like a rainbow of blossoms. Each picture also had its own large garland of flowers. The whole background and stage was covered with golden cloths, and glowing through the cloths were swirls of white lights.
Swamiji had to descend a few stairs from outside, then, walking down the center aisle he looked like he was walking into that rainbow of flowers and the images of the gurus.
Everyone rose to greet him and stood in reverent silence (for the most part) as he made his way down that aisle to a seat in front where he could sit and greet people. Soon after he was seated, a birthday cake with lit candles was brought out to him.
We all sang Happy Birthday, the Ananda version where the last line is “Master’s blessings on you.” We were all looking at Swamiji, and he was gazing back at us with such profound love and divine connectedness, we put everything we had into that simple melodic blessing.
Indian clothes for women are among the most beautiful in the world—brilliant colors and many sparkles—rhinestones, sequins, tiny mirrors. Because it was a formal occasion, many women were wearing saris, not so common now since most women prefer the comfort and convenience of the Indian style pants and long tunics, or, alas, jeans and shirts. The dress code for the Ananda Choir was jewel tone saris. So the audience itself added greatly to the sense of beauty and light.
Naturally, the program began with choir music, Dharmini conducting. Although the music, and even choir singing itself, is not that common in India, by now many of the Indian devotees have embraced the music and joined the choir. One of the young devotees played the first movement of Swamiji’s piano sonata The Divine Romance (God’s Call Within). Then Swamiji asked if the choir could sing it (it wasn’t on the program) and a smaller group who knew the piece performed it for him.
He was just a few feet away in the front row, with that look of eternity we see so often on his face now, gazing with unlimited bliss as the music poured out to him from the hearts of the devotees.
The last part of the musical program was Swamiji himself singing a solo of Life Flows On Like a River. Swamiji walked rather tentatively; others had to stand close to him and help support him.
He said later, one would have assumed that the voice coming from that body would have been thin and croaky. Not at all!
Swamiji’s voice in these last years has deepened and developed an even more profound resonance than before. It was a gorgeous rendition of that song, not only musically, but the spiritual undertones in his singing went right to the heart.
Rony, who is one of the leaders now of the work in Gurgaon, was the host for the evening. Many of you met him and his wife Changa and their son Rahul when they visited America a few years ago. Rony spoke with his usual grace and refinement, making us all feel welcome.
Mr. Kartikeyan was present, and also his lovely wife, who has not yet traveled with him to America, but we hope she will soon. He travels around India a great deal and had been in Bangalore that morning and was going back the next day, but flew home just to be part of this occasion. As usual, he spoke sweetly and thoughtfully and with great respect for Swamiji and the contribution he is making to the world.
Priti, the woman responsible for bringing the school into manifestation, then spoke a few minutes about that project. As usual, whenever we hear about this Ananda Education for Life, one thinks about being a child again just to be a student in one of these schools. One person donated money to our school in Palo Alto once saying “I’m doing this so I’ll have a place to go to school in my next incarnation.”
Dharmadas then introduced Swamiji, giving us a brief glimpse of Swamiji’s many accomplishments. He ended by leading us in a deeply moving prayer of blessing for Swamiji.
Then Swamiji took the stage and for the next hour we were entranced by his wisdom and bliss. No sign now of the aging body! You can enjoy a recording of that talk: http://www.anandaindia.org/inspiration/video/kriyananda.html
One point he made—not central but very interesting—was that America specializes in “creative materialism,” that is, “giving, not taking.” America is the only country in the world that, after a war, has given millions of dollars to help rebuild the countries of former enemies.
Because of this Dwapara way of relating to the material plane, in the years ahead, America, with India, will lead the world. This is what Master predicted.
In another context completely, Swamiji was speaking of how diminished England is now, compared to its former position of power. “The sun never sets on the British empire.” Swamiji quoted Master as saying that for centuries England took and didn’t give back, so naturally their good karma ran out.
Back to the birthday: Several times during the evening, and afterwards when he was back home, Swamiji said, “What means the most to me about this evening is seeing all of you,” speaking of the devotees gathered to celebrate his birthday with him. At this point in his life, Swamiji has traveled many times around the world, seen all the sights this world has to offer, and been gifted and honored in countless ways. Still, all that is ephemeral. The love we share in God, however, is everlasting. The body dies, the form changes, but the unity of consciousness in the divine is eternal.
In the midst of all those people, music, refreshments, tributes and greetings, one could see, looking at Swamiji’s face, that what he was experiencing was the soul-to-soul contact behind it all.
Dharmadas said later that it was so touching to see so many of our “business” contacts present at the event: some of the workmen who serve in our ashram houses, the accountant, the lawyer, friends who we met first because we went to the shops they own, and Sanjay Arora, the man who helped us with our first (and every subsequent) pilgrimage to India for 20 years starting in 1986.
As Dharmadas said, this doesn’t happen in America; it is one of the unique joys of India that this spiritual appreciation permeates society.
So, that was the birthday. To be here with Swamiji on his birthday was why I came to India. And it was in every way worth the trip.
Last night, there was a performance of P.G. Wodehouse’s The Smile that Wins especially for Swamiji, here at Guru Kripa. Some very, very funny actors among the devotees in this ashram!
So now, let me share a few other things that you may enjoy hearing about.
A few days earlier, a small group of us went to enjoy the buffet lunch at the Trident Hotel. Those of you who have received letters from previous trips to India may remember our descriptions of the Trident. It is a great asset to life in Gurgaon.
The design is extraordinary: all of a pale beige stone, on a huge scale. Enormous arches, tall glass doorways with curved brass fixtures. Even inside, there are high arches everywhere. All the colors are pale. In fact, it is in perfect harmony with the desert. It could stand alone in the middle of a sandy plain and look like it grew right out of the environment, some castle belonging to a Maharaj. It doesn’t look like any hotel we’ve ever seen.
When you first enter the grounds, the first thing you see is an enormous flat fountain made of dark granite, the length of the building in size. Water in a thin sheet flows across the granite and pours continuously over the sides.
In a line down the center of that enormous sheet of water, there are several gas burners, not obvious in the day time, but at night flames rise from the water. The effect, of course, is extraordinary.
This visit, however, was in daylight, and there was no fire. We were charmed to see a few birds, walking or floating on the water, perched on the rim of the burners. Not many, just a few. It was captivating.
The lobby has a very high ceiling; the soft color scheme continues inside, a pale beige everywhere, except for several enormous vases of bright yellow flowers, and small arrangements of yellow roses.
Swamiji is well known by the whole staff there, and they greeted him with great affection, seeing him again after a long absence.
One of the remarkable features of being with Swamiji is that one never knows when grace will descend. Sometimes the most meaningful moments come at the most unexpected times.
Entering the Trident, and walking down the long marble corridor, with its ceiling arches and windows looking out to the garden beyond, was, for me, one such moment.
Because Swamiji moves slowly, we all walk at a pace different from what we would do on our own. I’ve mentioned before, that, strangely, one never feels impatient, or restless to move more quickly. I think in matching his pace we are also attuning to his vibration. In that attunement a tiny bubble of his deep inner joy and contentment also becomes our own.
In the book about Swamiji, I tell the story of when he was ill in bed with a fever so severe he was shaking with chills and panting to breathe. Shivani came in to see him, and as she started to approach, Swamiji said, "Don't come too close, you might catch what I have." "If you have it, I want it," Shivani said, then walked to his bed and took his hand.
Earlier in his life, Swamiji had a great work to accomplish and he was intent on fulfilling Master’s commission. Now, even though Swamiji continues to write, and plans to make a series of recordings based on his book The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, his life now seems more about consciousness. The slow pace of his walk, apparently imposed on him by physical limitations, is not inappropriate to his present consciousness—more about being, you might say, and less now about doing.
In the past, in many ways, he kept his consciousness hidden in order to do the work. Now, that is not necessary.
As I’ve mentioned before, his feelings are very close to the surface. When he speaks of Master, in almost any context, or any meaningful moment in his spiritual journey, such as first finding the Autobiography of a Yogi, or the bliss which is the fruit of spiritual life, his eyes often fill with tears, and frequently he has to pause for a moment until he masters his feelings before he can go on.
Anything of uplifting beauty touches him deeply. He got a new set of hearing aids—fortunately, technology is advancing at almost as fast a pace as his hearing is declining. As part of the testing process the technician played some music from the computer she had with her.
Fortunately, she correctly gauged Swamiji’s tastes, and chose one of Beethoven’s symphonies. The purpose was merely to check how well the hearing aids were working, whether he could hear all the tones in the music, and whether voices could still be heard if there was music playing.
From the first notes, however, Swamiji became so lost in the music, and so overcome by the beauty of it, that he couldn’t quite follow her questions, and, when he did, he couldn’t speak to answer them.
“Tender-hearted,” that is how we become on the spiritual path. And that is what we see exemplified by Swamiji.
Walking in virtual silence down the corridor of the Trident, staff members smiling in recognition, Swamiji offering a pronam in response, and they returning the respectful gesture, one couldn’t clearly remember even where we were. It was Master through Swamiji giving blessing to all who would receive it from him. An experience out of time and place.
The walk down the corridor would have been enough, but I am happy to say, lunch was delicious, too!
Swamiji has gone a few times to the Metropolitan Mall where Ananda has its store, The Wishing Tree. Opening that store was an idea Swamiji had when they first moved to Gurgaon to provide a connecting link between Ananda and the public. Just like our East West stores in America.
The Wishing Tree is a small store, with all of Ananda’s books and music, plus an appropriate selection of gift items. They have a small television with headphones so those who come in can see Swamiji speaking and singing. It has introduced many people to our work.
One of the women who now works at The Wishing Tree used to work at the Trident. Meeting Swamiji there she became interested in him and Master and this work and now is full time with Ananda.
Walking with Swamiji anywhere—at the Trident, at the Mall—one feels he is always doing the same thing: opening his heart to everyone he meets, giving to them as much as they will receive of his own inner joy, in the hope that they will be inspired to seek the bliss of God.
We always end our Sunday service with Master’s prayer, “May Thy love shine forever on the sanctuary of our devotion, and may we be able to awaken Thy love in all hearts.” Swamiji lives that prayer.
Even though we were only outside for a few minutes transiting from home to car, and car to Mall, the heat was intense. There is a coffee bar in the Mall, which serves very good cappuccino—they use Lavazza and have an Italian theme. Their advertising poster says “Escape to Italy”—meaning, sit down and have a cup of Italian coffee.
Swamiji joked with the staff: “We are taking your advice! We leave tomorrow.” Thinking especially of the heat, it does feel as if we are “escaping” from the Indian summer to the cool beauty of Switzerland!
Swamiji had just a few errands to run, but he also stopped in stores we passed where he has shopped before to say goodbye. “I’m leaving tomorrow. I won’t be back for some months. Just wanted to say goodbye.” Among so many other examples Swamiji sets for us, is this one of gracious friendship, even to those he knows only in a seemingly casual way.
Well, I think that about covers the days since I last wrote.
In a few hours we leave for the airport, staying overnight, as I mentioned, in London; then on to Milan and Lugano. David joins us in Milan, which, of course, will be a delight!
Love and blessings,
Saturday, May 16, 2009
(Long letter: Relax and enjoy.)
As most of you know, on Sunday afternoon (Mother’s Day), at 4:30pm I boarded a plane for India, to spend Swamiji’s birthday with him in Gurgaon. On that same day, he and his staff came up from Pune, where they are now living, to be in Gurgaon for a little more than a week. Right after Swamiji’s birthday, we all go to Italy.
In order to fly with him on the next leg of the journey, I had to take a different airline than I usual do which involved a 12-hour layover in London. Usually I am far too impatient to book a flight with such a layover. Especially when I am on my way to see Swamiji I simply can’t bear to extend the journey beyond the actual travel time.
I spent the layover in a small hotel—more like sleeping compartments with superb showers—deposited like packing crates in Heathrow airport. Quite cosy, quite comfortable, and now I am persuaded that this is the only way to fly. Having the rest in the middle made the journey almost effortless and cut back enormously on the jetlag.
I arrived in New Delhi late morning on the 12th and sat down for lunch with Swamiji that very day. Jai Guru.
Living in Pune since the end of January, has been a lot more unsettled for Swamiji and all. They are in rented apartments, still finding their way even in simple matters like buying food and other essentials. Here in Gurgaon, where they lived for five years, they own the house, called “Guru Kripa” (Guru’s Grace), and have many friends, not only devotees, but also in the neighborhood and among the shopkeepers.
When Swamiji moved, half of Ananda’s India crew remained in Gurgaon, half moved with him. He had moved out of Guru Kripa, so some of the devotees moved in. Dharmaraj and Dharmini (many of you know them since they lived for many years in our community) took the top floor of Guru Kripa, which had been Swamiji’s office. I had stayed in the house before when I was finishing the book about Swamiji. Then I slept on a screened porch on the roof just outside the office. Now, thanks to their generosity moving from here to the ashram house a few blocks away, I am enjoying their spacious and beautiful room. Quite a treat.
It is hot, but not unbearably so. A mere 100 degrees or so, not the 110 or more to which it can easily rise. One doesn’t go prancing about in the noonday sun, but with God’s gift to humanity—air-conditioning—life goes on pretty easily, at least for the week I’ll be here!
The devotees are thrilled (of course) to have Swamiji back with them, even for this short visit. Guru Kripa is also a comfortable, beautiful, and has a deeply joyous and peaceful vibration. But the house is of no great importance in itself. What Swamiji is enjoying, above all, is the sweetness of the devotees and the love and friendship they share together.
The evening I arrived there was a gathering of the whole community here at Guru Kripa, about 30-40 people. Swamiji read a P.G. Wodehouse story, “The Truth about George.” Everyone was already filled with happiness, so we laughed easily and often at Swamiji’s superb rendition of this story. The plot revolves around a man trying to overcome a severe stutter. Reading it aloud required Swamiji to have the same speech impediment.
Later, Nirmala remarked, that Swamiji stuttered in a “most kindly way.” Nowadays we are so careful not to be unfair to anyone who lives with handicaps of any kind. To build a story around stuttering would be considered “politically incorrect” in the extreme.
In fact, what we are trying to do with laws and regulations is what Swamiji expresses with his consciousness, which is a loving, supportive, accepting attitude toward all of God’s creation. Swamiji’s performance was quite subtle in that the stuttering was offered as a simple fact. There was no mockery. Swamiji read it as P.G. Wodehouse intended, a loving commentary on the human condition. Swamiji has often said that the reason he likes P.G. Wodehouse so much is that his humor is always “kindly.” He never laughs “at” anyone, but only joyously with them.
Later, I said to Swamiji that the story was “ridiculously entertaining.” Swamiji corrected me, saying it was “entertainingly ridiculous.” The editor in him never sleeps, I responded.
To skip ahead for a moment, the next day we watched a movie called “People Will Talk.” It is an old Cary Grant movie about a doctor. Quite entertaining. Part of the plot is that the doctor is remarkably successful and much loved and a mean-hearted, small- minded colleague is consumed with jealousy and determined to destroy the doctor if he can.
There are enough mysteries about the doctor’s past to move the plot along to the point where this accuser gets to present his case at an academic hearing. The details are unimportant, suffice to say that the doctor triumphs. At the end of the film, everybody goes into an auditorium to hear a concert except the small-minded man who puts his hand on the door knob, then thinks better of it and walks away without joining the others.
In post movie chat, someone remarked that the small-minded man was “ashamed” to join the others at the concert. “The right word is ‘embarrassed’,” Swamiji said. I responded, “The editor never sleeps,” trying to be humorous, but my joke fell flat, as Swamiji went on, “Such a person is not capable of feeling shame.”
In writing the book about Swamiji, sometimes a whole vignette would come from a single phrase. This was such a moment. Swamiji’s understanding of human nature is so sensitive. And it is from that sensitivity that his genius as a leader comes. There is a vast and important difference between being embarrassed and ashamed. To be ashamed implies a refinement of character and moral perception that was entirely lacking in that movie version of a small-minded man. So often we merely project on others the way we would feel in their circumstance, and as a result fail to respond appropriately to their reality.
“True maturity,” Swamiji describes is the “ability to relate to realities other than our own.” In other words not be circumscribed by the limitations of the ego.
Now, back to the satsang.
Even before reading the story, Swamiji had invited the group to ask questions, but it seemed everyone was so happy to be in his company again, that questions didn’t arise. After the story, we went with Swamiji from the downstairs living room upstairs to a large landing, where there are chairs and couches and a flat-screen television where videos can be shown.
Pushpa Rainbow, from Ananda Village, had sent Swamiji a half-hour video of pictures of the tulips blooming at Crystal Hermitage Gardens and he wanted to share that beauty with all of us. The soundtrack was Swamiji’s music so it was exquisitely beautiful to see all those blossoms while listening to those melodies.
The tulips are proving to be an important bridge between Ananda and the rest of Nevada County. They’ve started a tradition now of having an open house for the county at Crystal Hermitage Garden when the tulips bloom. This year, on two successive weekends, about 1200 people from the county came out to Ananda to see the flowers. Several hundred also had lunch at the Expanding Light. People who would never have come to Ananda for any other reason were introduced to the community. And it was impossible not to be impressed by the beauty and the vibrations.
After we watched the video, Swamiji again asked for questions, and people were more responsive. Swamiji spent a long time talking informally about the spiritual life. Afterwards, a woman who was newer to Ananda said that, in fact, she came with a list of questions, but was too shy to ask them; nonetheless, Swamiji, in his remarks, answered all of them.
One person asked Swamiji, “With all the difficulties you’ve had in your life, do you feel it has been worth it?”
Swamiji replied, “What difficulties?” Even though others look at his life as filled with challenges, Swamiji has never perceived it that way himself. Another person asked, “How do you keep the consciousness of God, even when you are going through tests?”
I was a little jet-lagged, and forgot my notebook, so I remember more the essence of Swamiji’s response than the words themselves. His reply to the second question was essentially the same as the first, “What tests?”
So often people are preoccupied, or fearful, of what God might ask of them. Swamiji turns the whole issue around saying a so-called test is just the opportunity to dissolve another delusion. It is the doorway to freedom. Something to rejoice in, not to fear. “Once you have overcome a delusion,” he said, “it disappears completely, as if it never existed.”
In his autobiography, Swamiji talks about the period immediately after being expelled from SRF. Even though he tried for a time to avoid teaching or lecturing, finally he was compelled by circumstances to take his first tentative steps back into the work Master had given him to do. People in that first audience told him afterwards that what they felt from him above all was joy. Joy, Swamiji said, was the last quality he himself was aware of; it had been a time of intense misery for him.
But looking deeper, beneath the apparent suffering, he was aware of a profound, unchanging state of joy. Whatever the superficial storms on the surface of the ocean of consciousness, in the depths of our being, the joy that is our true nature remains untouched. If God chooses to help us overcome our delusions, why feel anything but gratitude? Yes, of course, sometimes it is a struggle, but it all ends in joy.
Someone asked Swamiji, “How did you feel when Master died?” Swamiji responded, “That’s a very personal question.” For a moment he was silent, then very quietly he said, “It was heartbreaking.”
When I was in India earlier this year, you may remember I wrote about being at a few of the last recording sessions when Swamiji made the audio book of his revised autobiography, “The New Path.”
One of the last chapters is the story of Master leaving his body, March 7, 1952. Swamiji was present when Master died. Reading that chapter aloud, again and again, Swamiji was overcome by emotion, and the recording had to stop until he mastered his tears sufficiently to go on. At one point, Swamiji said, “Perhaps someone else has to read this chapter.” Finally he was able to do it, but when the recording comes out you will hear a different quality in his voice because of the depth of his feelings.
Years ago, when I was talking to Swamiji on the telephone about the inevitable time when we are still on this planet but he is gone. Out of gratitude for all he has given, and respect for all he has accomplished, I had to be supportive of the idea of his claiming his freedom whenever he felt to. “You have given so much to so many,” I said, “it would be too selfish of us to ask you to stay merely for our sakes.” But then, to be sincere, I added, “But it won’t be much fun to be on this planet without you.”
Swamiji responded quietly, but with heartfelt sincerity, “I know,” he said. “I have been through it.”
Back to the satsang here in Gurgaon, Swamiji said later, speaking of the work still to be done in India, “I am happy to stay in this body as long my guru needs me to do so.”
Swamiji has often talked here in India about the fact that he won’t be in his body much longer. He is simply stating the facts—he’ll be 83 in a couple of days—and he has also wanted people to understand that we need to act now to establish this work in India since he won’t always be here to help guide it.
In response, many people have said, quite naturally, “Sir, we need you here.” In other words, “Please don’t leave yet.” So Swamiji was making an important distinction at the satsang, that he is not living for other people, he is living only for his guru. This does mean in any way that he is indifferent to the needs of people. He is simply describing his own consciousness as a disciple.
I am reminded of Mother Theresa, who, when asked about the importance of her service to the poor, responded, “I am not serving the poor, I am serving Jesus.”
The world measures our worth by externals. The disciple thinks only of pleasing the guru. In all things, Swamiji shows us what it means to be a true disciple.
After the video of the tulips, Swamiji remarked, “All this complexity,” referring to the entire material universe, “was created from utter simplicity. The child-like simplicity of God.”
The next morning Swamiji returned to that concept, saying how profound an idea it is. All day I thought about it and later said to Swamiji, testing my own understanding, “Is it because creation is only vibration? Eventually all vibration ceases and all that is left is the stillness of God. The closer you get to Divine Stillness, the simpler the vibration becomes, until it ceases completely and all you have is the simplicity of Oneness in God. Is that what you meant?” Swamiji said, “Yes.”
This is a very important concept, not only as an abstraction, but also as an everyday way to focus our consciousness in the right way. So often we equate advancement of all kinds, including spiritual advancement, with increasing complexity rather than simplicity. Especially in the Silicon Valley area where we live, where intellectuality is so highly prized, it is difficult for people to understand even the idea of child-like simplicity, what to speak of its importance on the spiritual path.
In a discussion with Connie Hernandez (a Naturopathic physician) about a new curriculum we have developed to teach people “Ananda Healing,” i.e., Master’s healing methods, she was explaining how the more subtle the healing method, the more powerful it is. Most healing methods work to eliminate symptoms. Subtle methods eliminate causes. If you take away the cause of a disease you have certainly effected a more powerful healing than if you merely eliminate symptoms.
In the same way, the ability to deal effectively with a multitude of vibrations—i.e.,the material world—does not begin to give you the same mastery of oneself, or of the world, that comes when, inwardly, you move beyond vibrations altogether to the stillness of God; to the child-like simplicity of the One who made it all.
In Guru Kripa where the television is located, the stairwell going up to the next level of the house is located behind the chair where Swamiji sits. I was sitting on that staircase, looking at the back of Swamiji, but at the faces of all the devotees looking at him. A chorus of angels!
I’ve been coming to India since Swamiji moved here in 2003. At the beginning, when people were just getting to know Swamiji, Ananda, and one another, the cultural differences seemed more distinct. When I looked at a crowd in those early years, it was immediately apparent who was Indian and who was America. Now, as I looked out over the group, I found it hard to tell the country of origin. Of course the physical features were still there, but the consciousness was unified and therefore the differences didn’t stand out.
As Ananda devotees we are part of the “Nation of Self-Realization,” and that deep unity has dissolved all superficial differences. All of Krishna’s soldiers, they say, looked like Krishna.
You see that same unity in an Ananda choir. When they sing, everyone is channeling the same vibration. Even when there are cultural and racial differences, and ages range from 20 to 80 years, all the singers look alike. We are not our bodies, we are the consciousness that flows through us.
In the same way, Swamiji’s face often looks like the face of a child. Even though one can still see physical signs of his 83 years, his consciousness is entirely separate from the body and the joyful, child-like simplicity of that consciousness transforms the physical vehicle through which it flows.
The day after I arrived was Nirmala’s birthday and was filled with a particular sweetness as Swamiji, and all the devotees here expressed through gifts, flowers, and several celebrations their love and appreciation for all she is and has given to Master’s work. The women devotees gathered at Cecelia’s beautiful apartment for chanting, meditation, tea and chocolate cake! Divine in every way.
Here in Gurgaon, a thrilling development is the soon-to-be-opened first Living Wisdom School in India. A devotee here, Priti, had a piece of land on which she had long-planned to build and open a school. When she became an Ananda devotee, she decided to make it an Education for Life School.
The building is almost done. The school is scheduled to open in July. (School terms follow a different calendar here.) Santoshi came from the Village two months ago to help with the project. In the late afternoon yesterday, all the teachers, Priti and Santoshi came for a satsang with Swamiji.
It is a very fine group, all women, mostly experienced teachers. Several have spent months in America learning the EFL system. A couple of “founding children” and their parents also came. One mother said she had prayed for a spiritual school for her child and felt Master had brought this school into manifestation to answer that prayer.
One woman, who has been teaching for several decades, said that it was thrilling at her age to be learning so many new things as a devotee and to be able to pass those on to the children. A great blessing, she said, for her and for them.
We then went out to the new building, which Swamiji had not yet seen. The school is located in another part of the same development where Guru Kripa and the Ananda Ashram is located, about ten minutes away.
The school building is not quite complete, but so far along it is easy to see what a fine design it is and what a wonderful school it will be. It is about 18,000 square feet, four stories. There are twelve classrooms (I think that is the right number), plus a couple of small apartments where a few of the staff can live. There is a small amphitheater in an open porch area, a large open space in the basement, and a cafeteria where all the children’s meals will be served.
The building covers most of the lot it sits on, but just across the small dead-end street where it is located, there is a park. The park is owned by the development so Priti couldn’t buy it, but they have an arrangement whereby she has “adopted” the park, so she is responsible for maintaining it, but, in return, can use it as a place for the children to play.
The school starts with very young children—18 months—and this first year will go through first grade. They will build up from there.
It was thrilling to see the potential of this school.
In the satsang with the teachers, Swamiji mentioned the songs he has written for children. He said, “It isn’t difficult to write for children. You just have to see it from their point of view.” He mentioned, as an example of a song that was not written from the child’s point of view, something he was taught in school: “Climb, climb Sunshine Mountain, faces all aglow.”
“A child,” Swamiji said, “does not think of his face as ‘all aglow.’ He thinks of it as covered with sweat from the effort to climb Sunshine Mountain!” In his book about education, Swamiji said, the music children sing, and the activities they do, should not be a source of embarrassment to them later. Even if they are on a child’s level, they should reflect truths that can inspire them all through life.
Think of Move, All You Mountains which we adults sometimes sing together and act out in the same way we teach the children. It does require a certain freedom of heart to join in, but once we do, it is as inspiring for us as it is for the younger ones.
Swamiji remarked that in some ways he was the worst person to write a book about education, since he left college in disgust. All his learning, he said, has come since he left school. But, of course, that makes him the ideal person to write about school. “All of Western education,” Swamiji said, “relates to the intellect. But until we have understood with the heart, we haven’t understood at all.”
He said that the Education for Life system can create a whole new generation with an entirely different understanding of life and learning.
Swamiji said that Master said every country has its own “misery-making karma.” For India, Swamiji said, it is the caste system. Not the ideal described by Master as the natural evolution of the soul from delusion to Self-realization, but the way that that truth has been corrupted and made a means of social oppression in India.
“In our schools in India,” Swamiji said, “we need to teach the truth of the caste system as Master taught it.” Our schools, Swamiji said, “Could change the face of India.”
Interestingly, in the well-known book The Worls is Flat, Thomas Friedman describes the skills people will need to function well in society as it is developing. He lists out all the qualities that our Living Wisdom Schools develop in children; then Friedman asks, “Where are the schools that will educate people in the way that is needed?” Of course, we know where they are: right here at Ananda.
It could be very interesting to contact Friedman and invite him to see what we are doing. Does anyone know him or know someone who does?
Swamiji, speaking about the difficulties Master predicted would come to our planet in the probably not-too-distant future said, “There is a war going on between light and darkness. This is not an incarnation when you can just sit back and do nothing.”
For those who don’t know how to respond to challenges by expanding their consciousness, the difficulties of these times will result only in suffering. For those who meet them with the right spirit, times like these allow people to make great spiritual progress, Swamiji said, or at least make a big leap forward. Hard times are experienced either as a blessing, or a punishment, depending on how we receive them.
And, on an entirely different subject, here is a quote from Master that I had never heard before. Master met Dr. and Mrs. Lewis very soon after he came to America. They were all about the same age and he often visited in their home. Apparently they had a cat. Swamiji said Master told them that in its next lifetime that cat would be a human being. Of course, the cat had the karma to interact with an avatar, which no doubt hastened its evolution!
That brings all of you pretty much up-to-date on my adventures with Swamiji in India.
Tuesday (the 19th) there is a public celebration for Swamiji’s birthday. On Thursday we fly to London, spend the night there, then on to Milan, Italy the next day where David will meet us.
I’ll write again soon.
In divine friendship,
Ananda Sangha, 2171 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306, (650) 323-3363
Serving the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Peninsula, Silicon Valley, and San Jose, CA
© 2013 Ananda