Monday, June 1, 2009

Letter #3, from Assisi, Italy

Dear Everyone:

Over this past weekend, Swamiji’s birthday was celebrated (again) here at Ananda Assisi. About 200 guests, plus 100 more residents and friends from the area, gathered on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning to be with Swamiji.

The majority, of course, are from Italy, but devotees came also from Russia, Croatia, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Finland, Switzerland, America, and probably a few other places too. At the end of
Autobiography of a Yogi Master speaks of the small communities he envisioned as “World Brotherhood Colonies.” In America, that name for our communities is uplifting, but more theoretical than actual (although the Village includes residents from several countries).

Here, however, that principle is active everyday. World War II is now half a century behind us, but skirmishes took place in the very hills around us. You can find bullet holes on local buildings. Conflicts are on-going in many parts of the world. But here, all these many cultures and countries are united, just as Master urged us to be, by the knowledge that we are children of the One Divine Father.

The community here is situated on a country road that runs along a ridge, winding through rolling hills. The view in all directions is breath-takingly beautiful. Layer after layer of soft green hills and darker green trees and shrubs. It has been mostly warm, with occasional clouds and most recently rain. One or two of the sunsets have been astrally beautiful. After Swamiji’s Saturday satsang, the sun was partially obscured by clouds but rays of luminous, multicolored light streamed from behind the clouds down to the green hills.

The main building, a former hotel and restaurant that’s still called Il Refugio (The Refuge), is located right on the road. Just behind it, out of sight from the road, nestled in a shallow bowl among the green hills, is the Temple of Light, dome shaped (like the hills behind it) but covered in deep blue tiles. The design has been replicated now in our community in Seattle, Washington.

There is a driveway—more often a walkway—from the road to the Temple. It is pavement off the road, then changes to cobblestones, goes up the small hill, then curves downward again leading right to the beautiful arched doorway of the Temple. The area around the cobblestone, the downward curved part, is beautifully landscaped, with a wide green lawn on one side, a stone patio on the other, and flowering plants all along the way. At this time of year, especially, everything is in bloom.

Swamiji’s satsang was scheduled for 4:30 in the afternoon. He arrived here several days earlier, but the journey from India was hard on his body, and he spent most of these past few days resting; so this satsang was the first time most people would see him. In eager anticipation, many gathered along that walkway to greet him.

Swamiji’s house is located in a secluded area a few kilometers from the Temple. Anand drove him from his house just before the satsang was scheduled to begin. Swamiji was beautifully dressed in a long orange kurta and white linen pants. He isn’t strong, so can’t walk far, and Anand wanted to drive him right to the door of the Temple. But when Swamiji saw all the people gathered at the crest of the driveway, he asked Anand to park there, so he could greet them.

With the help of a cane, and leaning on David’s arm, he began to make his way slowly down the cobblestone walkway. Both sides of the path were lined with devotees. Swamiji greeted many people by name, reaching out to touch one or another on the cheek, or the head, or the hand. Again and again he said, “It is such a joy to see you, to be here with all of you.”

Halfway to the Temple Swamiji gave up the effort to walk, and accepted the offer of the wheelchair, which had been rolled along behind him in case he needed it.

Walking behind him was like being in an astral paradise. The physical setting was exquisite: flowers, green hills, and the blue dome sparkling in the sunshine. But that beauty was as nothing compared to the faces of the devotees. The country of Italy has created many saints. It is easy to see why. There is a depth and refinement to the devotion here that was offered now in full measure to Swamiji in gratitude for all he has done to bring them to Master and to God.

Swamiji has often said that he has had only two desires in life: to realize God and to help others also to realize Him. Waves of bliss flowed from him, and waves of blissful gratitude flowed to him, as he moved slowly through that corridor of angels.

Finally we reached the Temple, which was also crowded with devotees, another corridor of angels as he walked down the center aisle to the beautifully-carved and tapestry-covered chair, placed on the dais and used only when Swamiji is there.

Swamiji again greeted everyone, and spoke of his great joy at seeing them all again after so many months away in India and America.

There was music: the choir sang perfectly. Then Swamiji did his rendition of
Life Flows on Like a River, as he did at his birthday celebration in Gurgaon. His voice has become much deeper, and he delights in singing this bass solo, reveling in the lowest notes, adding a few flourishes that are not actually written into the music, frankly “showing off” his ability to sing, he claims, even the lowest note on the piano.

Everyone laughed delightedly both at the beauty of the song and Swamiji’s obvious pleasure in singing it for them. He sang in English, but had prepared an Italian translation of the song, which he read beforehand. Swamiji’s speaks fluent Italian and communicates mostly in that language when he is in Assisi.

If you don’t understand Italian, you can have an individual headset where you can hear a simultaneous translation in either English or German, depending on which channel you tune into.

Swamiji is a brilliant speaker and over these many decades has educated several generations in Master’s teachings of Self-realization, both through his writings and his talks. He has had to introduce people to concepts they have never heard before, or, when he is in India, bring to them a new understanding of their own ancient tradition. In many ways, that phase of his life is now over.

Even when it was his responsibility to teach us the principles of Self-realization, I often felt when sitting in the audience listening to him speak, even about a very subtle or complex subject, that what he was really giving us was vibration. As the vibration passed through him—for he acts only as a channel for Master—he attached words to it so we would be able to receive it. But the words were just a medium for the attunement to God and Gurus that he conveyed.

Now, on this occasion, in the heart-centered country of Italy, in the divine land of Assisi, so deeply blessed by the devotional presence of St. Francis, there was little need to clothe that vibration in complex ideas. All the complexity of this creation, as Swamiji said when we were in Gurgaon, emanates from a child-like simplicity.

Swamiji lives now in the heart of that simplicity, and is able to convey it to us.

The heart of his talk, as it was in Gurgaon, was about meeting Master, reading the
Autobiography of a Yogi, finding his life changed completely, then going on to become a disciple. How, miraculously, his father was in Egypt and his mother was on a ship on her way to join him. All obstacles had been removed. Master was able to guide him to the book and then into his divine presence.

Swamiji has been a disciple for over 60 years now. He was a young man when he first knelt at Master’s feet and received initiation. Now he is 83, and has given every ounce of his energy to fulfilling the divine commission his guru gave him.

It may seem to us that much time has passed; many people listening to him weren’t even born when Swamiji began his life of discipleship. But for Swamiji, there is no time. The touch of the Master happens in a realm of superconsciousness where time does not exist. It is happening for him in the eternal Now.

Swamiji spoke of what Master said in his poem
God’s Boatman, that he would return again and again, a trillion times if necessary, as long as one stray brother was left behind. Swamiji was moved to tears as he contemplated the depth of compassion and love the Master brings to us, and many of us wept with him.

Everything about this incarnation for Swamiji is defined by his discipleship. He weeps easily, his heart is so tender. Many times on Saturday, he was so overcome, that he struggled to speak, his voice became a whisper, or stopped altogether. “I feel so much bliss,” Swamiji has said, “I can’t contain it. But what else do I have to give except bliss?”

After the talk was done, Swamiji made the same journey through the corridor of angels. He accepted the wheelchair at the door of the temple. As the chair moved up the walkway, he was stopped often by devotees wanting to greet him, to present their children to him, to offer him gifts, and, above, all to express their love and gratitude.

There is a wonderful movie about Padre Pio titled
Padre Pio: Miracle Man. For those of you who don’t know, Padre Pio was an Italian Catholic priest, who received the stigmata when he was a young monk and bore those wounds on his body for 50 years. He died in 1968, so his life is well-known and well-documented. He is a great saint.

This film was made in Italy. It is a dramatization of his life, superbly crafted, well acted, with beautiful music and photography. The DVD is available on the internet. It has been dubbed into English, but the dubbing is terrible, so watch it in Italian with English subtitles.

Swamiji has seen the movie several times but asked to see it again on Saturday night so a few of us watched it with him. It is a long movie, and we only watched about an hour of it. It begins at the end of Padre Pio’s life, perhaps even the last day of his life, and tells the story through flashbacks.

The actor who plays Padre Pio, Sergio Castellitto, is superb. He beautifully conveys the paradox of great physical weakness and enormous spiritual power existing side-by-side in the same form. This a theme we are living now with Swamiji so you can imagine how poignant it was to watch that film with Swamiji sitting next to us.

On Sunday, Swamiji came at the beginning of the service. It was raining, and most people were already inside the Temple, so Anand was able to drive the car right up to the doorway. There were over 300 people in the Temple, and they all rose in reverent silence to greet Swamiji.

The Temple was not built to hold that many, so people were standing and sitting everywhere. It was the largest crowd, they said, that had ever had inside there. There was chanting and perfect choir music, and much laughter and celebration.

Even though I don’t speak Italian, if I concentrate, I can usually understand much of what Swamiji says, largely because I have heard him speak so often that if I can catch the theme, I can follow it. On Sunday, I walked in with him and ended up sitting on the floor right in front because there was no other place to be.

He touched on more themes in this talk than on the day before, and was able to speak more easily than on Saturday. He spoke of the simplicity of God and the joy of childlike devotion and life as bliss. But I have to confess that I kept forgetting to listen to the words; I was so inspired by the vibration. He laughed often and people laughed joyously with him.

A few days earlier, Swamiji said, “I find it amazing that people find so much in life to be bitter about, when life itself is nothing but bliss.” He repeated this theme again in his talk on Sunday.

After speaking, Swamiji left and others carried on with the Festival of Light.

An hour later, Swamiji returned for a festive birthday dinner. The dining room can only hold about half of the people who were there, so tables were set up in a glass gazebo outside. Friday and Saturday were sunny, so the plan was to have many tables set up outside. Sunday however, there was pouring rain, so people were crowded in everywhere.

Nothing dampened the joyous mood, however. Again, many people came up to Swamiji’s table to greet him, offer gratitude, love, and sometimes gifts. For formal occasions, Swamiji was wears the traditional orange, but for this event he wore an indigo blue silk shirt with white linen trousers. The table was strewn with yellow roses. So the color of his clothes, the roses, and his own aura of golden light made his table a living expression of the colors of the spiritual eye.

The lunch ended with the presentation of a large cake beautifully decorated with strawberries and cream. “Happy Birthday” was sung in Italian and English and then Swamiji blew out the candles.

He told the story of Master’s last birthday. When the cake with lighted candles was presented to Master, his disciple Dr. Lewis asked the guru if he had enough breath to blow out the candles. Master replied, “I only have to be careful not to blow away the whole cake as well!”

Later in the afternoon, Swami Shankarananda from Rishikesh came to visit. First he gave a satsang in the Temple; then he came with a few of his devotees for a short visit with Swamiji.

Since he was expelled from SRF in 1962, Swamiji has lived without the company of fellow monks or swamis. It has been one of the tapasyas of his life. So it is always moving to see Swamiji in the company of his “peers,” i.e., others who have embraced the life of sannyas (renunciation) as he has.

Swami Shankarananda is a disciple of a disciple of Sri Yuktewar, and has built a Temple of Kriya Yoga in Rishikesh. Swamiji (Kriyananda) has visited him there, and Swami Shankarananda has visited Ananda Village and Assisi once or twice before.

It was short visit and conversation was mostly about India and ways in which the message of Kriya Yoga and Self-realization can be brought to the world.

On Sunday evening we watched the rest of the Padre Pio movie.

In addition to the two talks, so many people came to greet him, and to each one he gave his full attention and energy. Now he is ready to rest. For the next 10 days there are no public events. His house here is isolated and quiet. From every window you see either gardens and flowers, or the rolling green hills stretching out to the horizon.

Two weeks from now is the launch of Swamiji’s latest book,
Religion in the New Age (I think the title is a little different in the Italian version), which will be held in Rome on Saturday evening. Then on Sunday, there is a performance of The Peace Treaty in Italian. Both are very big events and Swamiji needs to gather his energy that weekend.

We’ll go to Rome with Swamiji and then leave on Monday morning.

Now, to go back in time.

We flew from Gurgaon to London, spent the night in a hotel there, then flew to Milan the next morning. This is the first time I’ve been part of moving Swamiji from one continent to another. His staff has been doing this every year since he moved to India. It is no small project!

This time, three were traveling with Swamiji—Miriam, Lila, and Lakshman—plus me. Although Swamiji has homes in each place—India, America, and Europe (Italy)—still, there is a mountain of luggage.

Swamiji was not strong when we left India and the departure was brutal. It was over 110 degrees, and the air conditioning in the whole airport broke. So for the required 2 hours in advance of departure we were sweltering inside the airport. We thought we would get respite by boarding the plane so we got on as soon as the gate opened. The air conditioning on the plane, however, was also broken, so there we were sitting in a metal tube on a black tarmac in the midday sun. It was a convenient afternoon departure but proved our undoing.

They stopped boarding for a time to make sure the air conditioning could be fixed. They decided it was merely overwhelmed by the conditions, and the only solution was to take off and get into a cooler atmosphere.

So we got to sit on the plane for another hour or so before taking off. It was not easy for any of us.

In London, Miriam and Lila went with Swamiji right away to the hotel, and Lakshman and I took care of a mountain of heavy suitcases. Fortunately, there are strong porters with huge carts, and we managed to move the suitcases to the hotel, then back again to the airport in the morning.

When we got to Milan, we were met by a crowd of Ananda devotees, and it was a great pleasure to give that luggage over to others!

We went with Swamiji and about a dozen others to Lugano, Switzerland for a few days of vacation. For Swamiji, it turned out to be more of a time of recovery from the rigors of travel than actual vacation. The hotel is located right in the center of the nicest part of the city—no cars, just pedestrians, beautiful old buildings, and a lovely lake and garden. The weather was ideal—warm, sunny—and we had a few outings with Swamiji, and a few on our own while he rested at the hotel. It was uneventful, outwardly, but like everything with Swamiji, deeply blissful.

I think that is about all for now. I’ll write again soon.


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