Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Letter #1 from LA

Dear Everyone:

At Spiritual Renewal Week and recently in Los Angeles, I was witness to some extraordinary moments with Swamiji that I want to share with all of you. For those who are new to these letters, I warn you in advance: the letter is long. Hope you enjoy it.

Where Swamiji Met Master

When Swamiji (Kriyananda) arrived in America at the end of June this year, he planned to return to India in early September unless . . .

Those three dots held a number of possibilities, which have now come to pass. Instead of going back to India, Swamiji has gone to Los Angeles, where he will stay for the next several months. He lives now in a lovely guest cottage at the home of a long time Ananda friend. For now, Los Angeles is home, the city Master called the “Benares of the West.”

For Swamiji, in a sense, it has always been his home. For it was there he met Master, became his disciple, was trained by him, and, on March 7, 1952, at the Biltmore Hotel, witnessed his Guru’s passing.

Many times since then he has visited Los Angeles and given programs there. Three times, in fact, an effort has been made, to make a permanent home for Ananda in Southern California. Twice the project was dismantled. The third time, even though the permanent center had to be let go, seeds were planted and began to sprout.

For the last several years, Sean Meshorer and Brook Cassady have been nurturing a multi-branched Ananda tree composed of many meditation groups throughout the four-county area we northerners think of as “Los Angeles.”

Early in the summer, Swamiji committed to give a major public program in Los Angeles, as he has for the last several years.

The Wayshower: A Movie about Master

In addition to planning that event, Sean and Bharavi (a core Ananda Los Angeles member) had been working on another of those dots: turning the screenplay Swamiji wrote about the life of Master into a feature film.

Usually when people think to making a movie about Master, they think to work from Autobiography of a Yogi. The problem is, it has no plot, is not really about Master himself, and ends just as the story of Master’s life begins: coming to America to carry out his mission to the West.

Master’s life story needs to be told by one who witnessed and understands it. Swamiji is the obvious, in fact, the only one to do it. The screenplay is called The Wayshower. It starts with Jesus appearing to Babaji in the Himalayas, speaking of the need to send a great soul to the West to bring back the forgotten inner truth of his teachings. A thrilling start!

To make a long story shorter (none of my stories are really short), it looks very promising. This alone would have kept Swamiji in America, at least for some weeks.

The Answer: Swamiji’s Search for Meaning

On a parallel track -- every movie, we have learned, is a complete project in itself -- Swamiji has another screenplay called The Answer. In this screenplay, Swamiji tells the story of his own search for answers, in the context of responding to a young man’s despair at the meaninglessness of life. In the opening scene, the young man’s mother finds him about to commit suicide. Desperate to save him, she takes him in the middle of night to see Swamiji, hoping through him that her son can find a reason to go on living.

Swamiji tells the young man, “I understand. There was a time when I, too, was overcome by the apparent meaninglessness of it all.” Then Swamiji begins to tell the story of his own search and the answers he found in Master.

Nandini, a devotee from Italy with a talent for making things happen, is also living for a time now in Los Angeles, working exclusively on The Answer. She is assisted by an Ananda devotee who has years of experience in the Hollywood film industry.

Ancient Prophecies Soon to Be Fulfilled?

Just before he left India, Swamiji received a reading from documents believed to be written by Agastya, an ancient sage. This reading, like the Book of Brighu, makes detailed predictions about the past, present, and future lives of people living now. The Brighu readings have proved to be quite accurate for Swamiji. Now an Agastya reading has also come to light.

The pundits who presented the reading were overcome with awe at the spiritual greatness Agastya described in Swamiji. Never before, they declared, has there been such a reading.

The relevant point here is that Agastya specifically stated that Swamiji would be creating movies and films! Prophecy is not certainty, but it is interesting that Swamiji had not even thought of writing a screenplay until just a couple of months before this reading surfaced. The benefit of these movies is self-evident. Keep them in your prayers.

Back to the Present: Ananda Village, Late July 2010

From Sean, Swamiji received a long, thoughtful letter about the work in Los Angeles. Everything is going beautifully, Sean wrote. Reservations are pouring in for the August event at the Ford Theater. It will be a sell-out, for sure.

How unfortunate, Sean went on to say, that we have no way to follow up on all this energy. A fulltime staff of two -- himself and Brook -- just isn’t enough. Much more is needed. Then he listed out all that could happen, if Swamiji would stay longer in Los Angeles.

It was a superb letter. Complete, imaginative, but not overstated; committed, but impersonal. He laid out the facts and let them speak for themselves.

Swamiji was persuaded. It seemed to be the “sign” he was waiting for. He called a few of us over to Crystal Hermitage (his home), read the letter aloud, and said he had decided not to return to India this fall, but to stay in Los Angeles, for some months at least.

Master for the World

Of course, for the Indian devotees, this is a great disappointment. And Swamiji is not blind to that fact. In the handful of years remaining to him, though, Swamiji has to plant Master’s light-seeds in fertile soil everywhere. Nurturing those seeds, as they sprout and grow, he can leave to others. Not that he won’t return to India sometime. For now, though, his work is in the Benares of the West.

Nearly 60 years have passed, since Master’s mahasamadhi (a great yogi’s final, conscious exit from the body he has used for that incarnation). Of the many thousands who met him, only a few are still living. And of close disciples, who lived with him, only five remain.

Swamiji is the only one living a public life, actively sharing Master’s teachings. He is the only one who has written about his experiences with Master, what it was like to live with him. We have his autobiography, The New Path, which could be called a sequel to Autobiography of a Yogi, taking up the story where Master ends it, coming to America. Then we have The Essence of Self-Realization and Conversations with Yogananda, plus The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita and Revelations of Christ. Of course, everything Swamiji does is an expression of Master’s teachings, but these are “primary sources.”

Master: An Avatar of Love and Bliss

One can access the Guru directly, of course, through intuition, his own writings, recordings, photographs, and the little bit of video we have, and above all through inner communion. New devotees also look to those who have come before to understand who Master is and how to be his disciple. Receiving the Guru’s ray through a more advanced disciple, Master said, not only accelerates one’s spiritual progress; that contact is essential.

Swamiji was commissioned by Master to do this “great work” of being the Guru’s channel for those of us who never knew Master directly. As the years pass, and his peer disciples retire from active service, or leave the planet altogether, Swamiji’s role becomes increasingly central.

Swamiji and Company

About a dozen devotees will go with Swamiji to Los Angeles. These include Jyotish, Devi, Durga, Vidura, Haridas, Roma, Bhagavati, Ramesha, Peter Kretzman, Lauri Moschini, Dharmadevi, Narayan, and me (Asha) part-time. (I am not moving, but will split my time, about 1/3 in Los Angeles, 2/3 in Palo Alto. David will be mostly in Palo Alto, but sometimes will come with me to LA.)

Add to that, Sean, Brook, and Bharavi, who are already in place, and Swamiji’s staff for as long as he is there, and you have quite a dynamic crew. A great adventure in Self-realization begins.


At the age of 77, Swamiji moved to India. At the age of 84, he is moving now for a time to Los Angeles, in both situations taking on a major work for Master. Not easy at any age.

Swamiji’s health overall is quite good. Still, from the time he arrived in America at the end of June, he had some difficult physical symptoms. He never seemed to adjust to the time change, so sleep was elusive, and often he had extreme shortness of breath.

You can’t think about Swamiji’s physical symptoms, however, in strictly physical terms. His body seems to be used by the Divine to work out karma -- not for himself, but for others and, above all, for the work he is doing for Master. Tapasya it is called: self-sacrifice and austerity offered with devotion as a way to clear karma and magnetize energy for what God will accomplish through him.

When Swamiji first went to India, he did a lot of tapasya. During one of his many hospital stays that first year, a swami from Rishikesh came to see him. When he expressed concern over Swamiji’s health, Swamiji replied cheerfully, “Don’t be concerned. I’m just doing tapasya for India.”

When I asked him about it later, he said simply, “In every story of noble achievement the hero has to do ‘penance’ of some kind to gather the strength and the divine blessings needed to accomplish his goal.”

Light and the Absence of Light

The decision to stay in Los Angeles seemed to intensify the inner battle. Whenever I was with Swamiji, I could feel the power of his will going out in a wave toward the work he felt called to do for Master.

Many times during those days, just sitting in his living room with a few old friends, he would speak about what was needed in Los Angeles, with a power and intensity more suited to a grand auditorium filled with thousands.

Master speaks of a conscious force that tries to keep light from expanding. Even though I couldn’t see them, I often felt during those days that Swamiji was addressing a dark astral horde, hovering around him, trying to break his will.

Not a chance. But the battle was intense and manifested not only through his determined words and thoughts, but also in his physical body.

Chapter 30: Karmic Patterns

In his book A Place Called Ananda, Swamiji gives a detailed account of his years in SRF -- both in India and America -- and how in 1962, he was kicked out of SRF. It is his most personal book, more personal even than his autobiography. At the same time, it is also a cosmic tale of how a great Master’s work is established and all the forces that try to keep it from happening.

Christianity is the story we know best and there are many parallels between what happened then and what is threatening to happen now. It is significant that Master called his work “The Second Coming of Christ.” The battle is between individual inspiration and institutional authority, the same dispute that raged in early Christianity. Most people don’t know how intense was the dispute, because the institution won, and the Church rewrote history.

Master’s work, Swamiji explains in Chapter 30 of A Place Called Ananda, is threatened by the same karmic pattern. There is nothing personal about it. This is Dwapara Yuga vs. Kali Yuga, the very reason Master was born.

The Plot Thickens

In the days after he decided to move to Los Angeles, until he actually arrived, the battle raged within Swamiji’s physical body. Among other symptoms, he was having pain in the center of his back, which made it difficult for him to work at the computer. He could still write, though, by dictating his thoughts and having someone else type them. He asked me to help.

So despite everything, he continued to work. In preparation for the Los Angeles event, he wrote notes of what he wanted to say, how he wanted people to understand Master as an avatar of bliss and love. Writing became a focal point of the physical struggle. Fatigue, breathlessness, pain would conspire against his clear-minded focus, but again and again Swamiji overcame limitation with will power.

I felt I was witness to a sacred struggle. No matter what obstacles assailed him, no matter what mental fatigue he felt, Swamiji let nothing deter him. And in the end, the day before he was scheduled to leave for Los Angeles, he finished the project. It was late, and he went to bed (and at least tried to go to sleep) while I continued to work several hours more in his office, entering all the final changes.

How that document may be used and in what form seems far less important to me than the victory Swamiji won in completing it.

Body and Soul

The next day, Swamiji fell. Right in his living room, thank God, going down on his side, on a carpeted surface without hitting furniture or walls. Still, the injury to his hip was severe. Paramedics had to be called and he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Swamiji still talked of going on with his plans to spend the night at Ananda Sacramento and fly to Los Angeles the day after! But no one else could even imagine it! And his doctor would not permit it.

Fortunately, his hip was bruised, but not broken. He couldn’t walk or even move without assistance, but no surgery was needed. And, the doctor assured him in a few days he would feel much better. Although weak and in pain, as he came out of the Emergency Room, Swamiji’s face shone with divine love and bliss.

One understands philosophically that we are divine spirits merely inhabiting our bodies. But it is quite another reality to see the living proof right in front of you.

Divine Service

The adventure was not over. During his convalescence back at Crystal Hermitage, there were complications from medication and fluctuating blood sugar that made travel impossible. Because he couldn’t move without assistance, and because of the pain wasn’t able to sleep easily, several people had to be with him all hours of the day and night. His staff and all the volunteers did heroic service for those several days.

Although arduous at times, all considered it a privilege to give back in this way to one who has given so much to all of us. In The New Path, Swamiji describes a time when Master was taking on karma for his disciples and for a time was unable to walk. The monks had to carry Master up and down the stairs.

When Master thanks them for his help, Swamiji responded, “Sir, it is you who are helping us.” Master smiled and said, “God helping God. That is His way.”

Getting to Los Angeles

1200 people had reserved seats for the big event in Los Angeles, Sunday, August 22. Swamiji said, “If I don’t go, it will be the first time in my life I have not kept a major commitment.”

From the beginning of his convalescence, his attention was on that event. Even when standing and walking was impossible, before he would accept help, he would try with all his willpower to manage on his own. “I want to be able to walk onto the stage at the Ford Theater.” Even his willpower, though, could not prevail over his injured body.

In the end, plans remained uncertain up until the very end. Finally, Sunday morning, he was well enough to travel. He drove to Sacramento, then flew to Los Angeles, arriving around 2:30pm. The program started at 6:00. He was not able to walk onto the stage, or, for that matter, to walk at all. He had to be brought out in a wheelchair, and spoke from it. But he was there: body diminished, but spirit untouched.

He was radiant, childlike, blissful. His face looked ageless. In the photographs, he looks like a little boy playing at sitting in a wheelchair.

And Now....

Naturally there was concern that the effort of traveling from Ananda Village to Los Angeles, and then giving the program that same day, would be a major physical setback for Swamiji. Not at all.

Often in Swamiji’s life, the days and weeks leading up to a major event are marked by great tapasya. Once the goal is reached, usually the physical challenge subsides. So it has proved in this case.

Swamiji is not yet well, but there has been a marked improvement in his condition. He is settled now for the next few months in Los Angeles. A new chapter in the life of this amazing man will now unfold.

Nayaswami Asha