Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Letter #2, from Gurgaon, India

Dear Everyone:

(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,
asha

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