Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Letter #1, from Gurgaon, India

Dear Everyone:

(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,

asha

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