Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Pune Community

Dear Everyone:

I am sitting at the gate in Dubai waiting to board the plane for the 16-hour (yes, 16!) flight to San Francisco. So by the time you get this I will be snug in my own bed in Chela Bhavan. Already India is fading and my “other life” is coming into focus again.

I do want to write to you though while the impressions of Ananda Pune Community, where I have been for the last week, are still vivid in my heart and mind.

This is my third try at this letter. The first two bogged down in too many physical details, because the physicality of the place is also a big part of the story, but I’ve decided not really the central story. Building a community from absolute bare ground, as they are doing, makes every little accomplishment -- a path, a flower, a building -- something huge to celebrate.

And there is much to celebrate: two lovely homes, one for Swamiji, the other built by Dharmadas and Nirmala, six “kutirs,” little studio apartments for one or a cozy twosome, although, this last week, 4-5 girls were sharing the one next to where I stayed with Lila. A guesthouse with six rooms, a converted existing structure that now serves as kitchen, office, and sleeping quarters for one or two, plus a large covered porch where all the meals are served.

A bathhouse, a temple with a thatched roof and screen walls -- sufficient here where it rains heavily but only gets cool, not cold.

And dust -- did I mention dust? The same wonderful fine red dust of my spiritual childhood at Ananda Village. And also, did I mention steep hills? The community is one side of a valley bounded by modest size hills. Our land starts about half up one side and goes to the ridge top. About 30 acres, nearly all of it steep.

There is also a huge in-progress building project to construct some dozens of flats that will belong to various future community residents from all over India and across the world.

The hope was that the flats would be ready in time for Swamiji’s arrival at the end of 2011. What a glorious plan: to have the community start with Swamiji in residence and in January, Uma and Kirtani were coming from Assisi Ananda to lead a month long community “ashram program,” as they call it there, to bring all the new residents into one spirit for their Ananda life.

Things rarely go as planned, however, and the flats are months from completion. Kirtani ended up with a detached retina in one eye that, thankfully, has been treated with 100% success, but going on an airplane was out of the question.

But when God closes one door he opens another. So Uma came over as planned, and then, the late-scheduled surprise was the arrival of all of us just the day before the program was set to begin.

Without completed housing, not as many of the future residents could come and many for only a portion of the month. Still, it has been a great gathering of the tribe, especially this first week, and I have had the enormous joy of being right in the middle of it.

I am greatly impressed by all that has been accomplished in terms of manifesting the community. Having lived through the early years of Ananda Village I know how much tapasya and sheer guts and will power is needed to turn bare land into a liveable community. But what has filled my heart with joy and my spirit with confidence for the future of Ananda Pune Community is the light of Master shining from the eyes of so many who are here.

This gathering turned out to be divinely orchestrated in many ways. Nirmala and Dharmadas have been key leaders in India since the beginning (2003) and now Swamiji has asked them to come with him to Italy to work on recording a new program he has created, called “Ask Me About Truth.” It is a conversational question and answer series and they play their “Tell me, Swamiji....” role just perfectly. They’ll film in Italy (he leaves for Europe in 3 weeks) and then depending on how much they get done may also come with him to America in May. After that they will make their home in America or Europe.... to be decided.

Swamiji asked Jaya and Sadhana Devi to come from Gurgaon back to Pune (they have lived there before in their India sojourn) to fill in the space left by Nirmala and Dharmadas. He also asked Durga and Vidura to lend their wonderful spirit and creativity to the mix. Jyotish and Devi came to help with the transition. Uma came for the program. Anand (Kirtani’s husband) ran into immigration trouble and was temporarily exiled from Italy (where he has lived for 20 years), and took refuge in India (now it is all straightened out and he can go home). I came just for fun.

The result, as you can well imagine, has been a wonderful mish-mash of energies from everywhere, much to the delight of everyone.

The carefully planned month-long program was immediately scrapped in favor of a more informal opening week, at least, of “let’s get to know each other.”

Many names I had heard and faces seen only in photographs are now friends of my heart. And, because of the internet, I found myself also already known by many through the book about Swamiji and other of the resources we have been passing out for so long.

India is the meeting place for devotees from everywhere, so in our little program of some 40 people, permanent, temporary, and future residents of Ananda Pune, there were eight countries represented: India, America, England, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Uruguay, Brazil. I don’t think Palo Alto qualifies as a country unto itself, but we are well-represented: Victor lives there now, Ashok and Raj came for the month, and Vijay Bault formerly of Palo Alto was also there. Baljinder and Sonya, and baby Himraj, now of India, formerly of northern and southern California, first met Swamiji at a satsang at the Palo Alto church. Ramani arrived for a visit of several weeks the day I left. And, of course, Biraj (and Lahari) have been part of Ananda India for years -- although soon he’ll be heading back to California, where Lahari is already ensconced.

Even more than usual, there was a sense of one heart, one spirit, one mind. National origin just didn’t enter into the discussion, except as an interesting aspect of “many expressions of One Spirit.” We were all there for God and nothing else mattered. Sometimes we needed a little “English to English” translation, however, with the variation of accents and pronunciations. And impossible not to smile when our friend fresh “off the boat” from England spoke of the “Hoosband” that she “loooves.” But that just lends spice to the soup!

In the week that I was there, the morning classes were led by the more recently Nayaswamis. Then in the afternoons for several days we had smaller group informal discussions, really just to give us all a chance to get to know one another.

After all these years I’ve come to be able to recognize a certain look in the eyes of Master’s children. And when you see that, you know that the call from Guru has been heard, and those responding have both the sincerity, and the will power to carry out what Master asks. Success is assured. It is just a matter now of the not-inconsiderable hard work needed to bring the ideal manifestation from the ether into this world.

A few days after we arrived Narayani organized a Sunday morning brunch. Anand made his “special pancakes” (they are yummy!). The dining porch was decorated lovingly, and Swamiji joined us for a festive breakfast.

He didn’t give a speech or satsang, but just sat quietly at his table, gazing lovingly at the devotees there. He looked around carefully at each one, greeting those who came to him or smiling at others from across the room. With a blissful smile he said to those sitting next to him, “They are all wonderful people.”

Dhuti is also visiting here (I forgot to mention that) and she has pulled the choir together so they sang for Swamiji. “They are all angels,” he said after the first song.

They sang some lighter numbers then performed “Blessed.” I don’t think I have been more deeply moved by that song (and it is already one of my favorites). Every word carried such profound meeting there, in this newly-forming community, where we are planting Master’s ray in the country of his birth. “Blessed the life that is given to God.” Yes. Yes. Yes.

A small school is also starting, both with some of the “village” (i.e., local) children and children of the soon-to-be residents. At the breakfast, a group of children also performed with great enthusiasm a few of Swamiji’s songs, much to their delight and the delight of all the adults watching.

After that event, for the rest of the week, Swamiji did not participate in any public way. He prefers to stay mostly in his home, working now on the script for the movie about the life of Yogananda. And also, amazingly, editing yet again the book “Yogananda for the World.” I didn’t think it could be made any better, but he did, and he did...make it better. I don’t know if the new version is yet on the website. He added a chapter called “Character Assassination,” quite interesting. So check www.yoganandafortheworld.com and if you see that chapter listed you know the newest version is there. Even if you have read it already, there are enough changes that it is worth looking over again.

Swamiji said he was still slightly discontented with the book before the latest editing, but now he feels it is done. What he did was make it even more impersonal, saying there are two ways to approach Master’s legacy -- sectarian and nonsectarian. SRF has taken the sectarian approach; Ananda the nonsectarian. Very interesting.

After that he started working on the script for the movie about Yogananda. He is about half done and needs to finish that soon (before he leaves India, I think) so that work can get underway. He is working with the Italian director who did that movie we all enjoyed so much, “Moscati,” about a saintly doctor. So everyone is expecting this to be a beautiful film...

I’ve only heard about the script, haven’t read it yet myself. Let us all keep it in our prayers, that Master lead Swamiji in just the right way, as he always does. Imagine what it will do for Master’s work if a beautiful film could be made that actually carries his teaching and his vibration. Jai Guru.

In the late afternoons, Swamiji often invited a few of us over for tea. Sometimes for a “walk,” which consisted of a paved path leading from his house to a small pavilion on the hillside. Making this walkway -- completely level so Swamiji can negotiate it -- was a loving gift from Nirmala and Dharmadas. His house is near the top of the hillside where the community is located. From the pavilion you can look across the wide valley to hills on the other side -- a lovely, expansive view of mostly undeveloped countryside.

Heavenly, as you can well imagine, to be perched there under the canopy, sitting around a small table on padded wicker chairs, talking with Swamiji about the movie of Yogananda, the beauty of the setting, the dedication of the disciples gathered there to build the community. Moments in eternity.

Swamiji’s home is well built, spacious, light and airy. The main area is living room and dining room combined, large enough to hold satsangs, which Swamiji often does. When he is not in residence, it serves as the community temple. Off the living room there is a kitchen toward the back, then to the side a large bedroom and after that an office -- everything Swamiji needs for him and his staff to carry on the creative business of his life.

One of the challenges (among many) of founding this community is working out the relationships with the surrounding villagers. Watunda, the nearest one, has been there for 1000 years. Life is very simple in these villages, little or no electricity, many of the houses are made of mud, with thatched roofs and dirt floors. Walking through the village yesterday morning, on the way to the village square, we stepped off the path to make way for cows -- lovely white cows with curved horns -- and passed the village women with their water pots at the community water source, chatting together in a lively way as they all filled their containers. Even though there were signs of changing times -- occasional motorcycles parked in the courtyards, even a satellite TV dish -- elements of life, you could see, had been unchanged for generations.

Yesterday was “Republic Day,” the celebration of India’s freedom, and the school children raised the Indian flag, sang the national anthem, then did for us a demonstration of coordinated calisthenics. Very dear, as children always are.

Having Ananda springing up in the middle of their valley has elements of an alien spaceship landing. Even though we say, “We come in peace,” not everyone is so sure. Or, on the other side, self-interest springs up with astounding determination. Seeing our apparent limitless wealth, many are eager to see -- more often to demand -- that we also do for them whatever we are doing for ourselves.

Much of the community has been built by laborers hired from this, and other villages, so there is nothing secret about what we are doing. Swamiji’s vision for this Ananda Pune community also includes uplifting the lives of these villagers, not so much with direct charity, as with solar electricity, education, job training, medical care.

He bought for the temple in Watunda a beautiful statue of Shiva. It was to present this statue that we went over there together yesterday. It is a good start but it is going to take time.

Fortunately, Aditya, one of the Ananda monks is also a doctor and speaks the local language and has just the right way of presenting Ananda and relating to the villagers with dignity, respect, and also a calm centeredness in the goodness of what we are doing. Jaya is also well known and much liked by the local village leaders, so gradually it will all come into focus.

All part of the adventure of building community.

Here is a link to many photos that Durga took. (A few are from our Goa adventure and also from Swamiji’s trip to Goa in December. I think it is easy to see which ones those are.)

I love being in India. While I was there it was the only reality, and a blissful one indeed. But as soon as I turned my direction toward home, all the joy of life with this community came to the fore, and I am so happy to be back among you all.

Blessings and love in Master,
asha

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Goa to Pune

Dear Everyone:

It is impossible, being with Swamiji now, not to think about the passage of time. He will be 86 in May. And none of the rest of us are getting any younger either!

My parents both died in their early 80s and I helped them through the last years of their lives. But I left home at 18 and somehow never identified them with any particular age. We didn’t really grow old together.

By contrast, my life has been defined by Swami Kriyananda since 1969, when I was 22 years old. And now, well, I’m not 22 and neither is he 43, as he was when I met him.

He has used his body vigorously, to carry Master’s work to the far corners of this planet. Until recently, by will power alone he could command the body to fulfill whatever intention he set for it.

Years ago, when he was writing the Oratorio, he was stricken with serious heart problems. His circulation slowed down and those responsible for his physical well- being were justifiably alarmed. Swamiji’s response was simply, “Satan is trying to stop me from completing this work.” And he went forward, regardless of the threat to his health, perhaps his very life, perceived by others. Virtually the day he completed that great musical work, the physical symptoms receded.

Swamiji’s physical body has often been the battleground between the force of his will and Master’s to express what is needed to fulfill the “great work” Master commissioned him to do, and the forces of darkness that want to extinguish, or at least diminish that light.

Over the years we have grown accustomed to these periodic battles. It hasn’t always been easy for Swamiji’s friends to stay strong in these moments, but we have done our best.

Now, of course, a different reality is setting in. In the introduction to his book, A Renunciate Order for a New Age, I describe the experience of a few years ago when it seemed the span of Swamiji’s life had come to an end, until, in a matter of moments, Master healed him and, seemingly, extended his life for some years to come.

Swamiji explains it simply, “I still have work to do.” Mainly now it is the movies and a series of radio and perhaps TV programs. At least that is what he sees before him still. His body still responds to his determined will, and Swamiji continues to write and occasionally to give public programs, like the recent book launch in Mumbai. But Swamiji is the first to point out that 86 is a ripe old age and nothing of this world lasts forever.

When I met Swamiji for the first time in 1969, as I wrote in my book about him, and as many of you have heard me say, I felt an instant connection with him. He walked into the room and I recognized, not so much him, as his consciousness. The words that formed in my mind were, “He has what I want.” Already for some years I had been studying the teachings of Self-realization through Vivekananda and Ramakrishna (as I mentioned in my earlier letter). So I knew about Self-realization and spiritual advancement, but this was the first time I saw it manifest in a living person.

The notable fact, that I have been contemplating lately, is that the relationship with Swamiji was formed without reference to anything but his consciousness. He hadn’t spoken a word. I had no idea of his personality or his intelligence or any aspect of this particular incarnation. What I felt was only consciousness.

Then he spoke, and I was profoundly impressed. I don’t remember anything he said, I only remember my response: “This is the most intelligent man I have ever met.”

Even at the time I thought of that aspect of his nature as a bonus, a gift from God, but not the reason why he inspired me. In all these forty years since, naturally, I, and many others have formed a bond also with that side of his nature. With his personality, his strength and dynamism as a human being.

All of that dynamism is still within him, but the stage of his life and the age of his body have changed the way it is expressed. Most (but not quite all) of his work is done. The course of Master’s work has been set. It isn’t necessary, nor is it possible, for him to be engaged in the world with the same unrelenting will power Swamiji has shown for so many decades. Even in the company of his closest friends, there is more silence around Swamiji now.

Last summer in the filming for one of the movies a small satsang was arranged and Swamiji read a P.G. Wodehouse story. Afterwards he said that would be the last time he did that. “Too much laughter,” was his explanation, “too outward.” He wasn’t telling us to stop enjoying stories in that way. He was saying, simply, that it was no longer his bhav to do so.

Not long ago someone sent me a snippet of video taken at the old Meditation Retreat sometime in the 1970s. Swamiji was then in his 40s, and often dressed in Indian clothes. In this bit of film he was wearing a dhoti -- the skirt-like Indian garment. In the film, he walked out of the temple, bent over and picked up his sandal, and standing on one foot put on his shoe. The dhoti separated a little and you could see his muscular calves.

Now, like many people of his age -- my father, my father’s older brother whom I also assisted in the last years of his life (he passed away last year at age 95) -- he needs assistance even with simple tasks, like putting on his shoes or walking.

Consciousness is the same. Consciousness is unchanging. But the body is ephemeral. Not only his, but ours, too, of course.

The relationships we all have, not just with Swamiji, but with each other, are built slowly, over many years, through shared experiences of many kinds -- meditation, satsang, celebration, service, social. Everything outward passes away, even our personalities. But insofar as we have been united in the consciousness of God, that remains with us, and unites, for eternity. Spiritual family transcends time, space, and all physical limitations.

Some years ago I was sitting in my apartment in the community and there was a large picture of Master on the wall. I don’t remember the context, but I found myself alone, looking at that picture. I am not given to anything resembling visions, but in that moment there was a sense of Master’s presence. It occurred to me, with the force of more than ordinary thought, that I, and all the many friends with whom I have shared this incarnation, came for only one reason: To serve Master’s cause, to be with Swamiji, to help him in this “great work.”

Yes, many other desires have also animated my life. I can’t pretend otherwise. But no matter how much they may have dominated or defined me from time to time, always, underneath, there has been one consistent note: to help Swamiji fulfill Master’s commission.

On Swamiji’s 80th birthday we had a huge celebration at Ananda Village. For the final event hundreds of people were gathered in the garden at Crystal Hermitage. For the third or fourth time we sang “Happy Birthday” to Swamiji and presented him, as I recall, with yet another splendid cake.

Various tributes were offered to Swamiji, then he took the microphone to respond. He repeated to us something we had heard before. After Master’s passing, Rajarshi Janakananda, Master’s spiritual successor, repeated to Swamiji the same words Master had spoken, “You have a great work to do.” And on one occasion (at least) Rajarshi also said, “And he [Master] will give you the strength to do it.”

On his 80th birthday, Swamiji looked out over the huge crowd of devotees, and said, “And you are the strength Master gave me.”

For the last week we have been with Swamiji at a resort in Goa, a place we have visited several times before. Beautiful, relaxing, a joy to be with him and other life-long friends.

Just for fun, I had my palm read by a man who comes to the resort to provide this service to the guests. He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. In fact, most of what he said seemed self-evident, until I remembered that he knew nothing at all about me except what he “saw” in my palm.

Just to satisfy your curiosity, he said that I am articulate, serviceful, have lots of friends, and, he said, will have a long life.

I mentioned this last before I say, “How quickly an incarnation passes.” And how little the details matter! What looms so large along the way really fades into nothing compared to whatever central meaning one has built one’s life around.

And what joy to live for God, to be part of this great work, to have been a witness to Swamiji’s life lived for Master.

So, enough of the eternal, here’s a little of the mundane.

The resort, as you can see from these photos, is beautiful, because spacious, well designed, filled with natural beauty. The buildings are well designed, the rooms airy and filled with light, but simple, so you feel more as if you are in your own home than in someone’s palace. Much more enjoyable for people like us.

Because of all the blue clothes, other guests often ask us who we are. I answered a woman’s question by saying, “We are part of an ashram.”

She looked at me rather quizzically, and said, “When I think ashram I think more austerity than...well... .this,” indicating our surroundings. We were sitting in what is really a first-class spa, both waiting to have a massage.

I saw it suddenly from her point of view and said only, “There is lots of austerity in our lives. We come here to relax.” But I don’t think she was convinced!

In fact, I don’t think of this life in terms of austerity at all. Years ago, when I first came to Ananda, I lived in a trailer so small I could almost touch both side walls when I extended my hands. And I couldn’t do any of the energization exercises inside that involved raising my hands above my head.

There were some holes in the floor (ventilation as far as I was concerned) and sometimes grasses started to grow through those openings. Raccoons would occasionally break in. To this day, a certain page of my first edition of The Path has the red-dirt footprints of a raccoon who made his way into my trailer when I was away and walked across the book open on my table.

For a time a family of porcupines lived underneath the trailer and as I lay on my bed at night I could hear them eating away at the supports which anchored the trailer to the hill. (Eventually we trapped the porcupines and took them far away.)

Forget indoor plumbing. Simply not an option. It was amazing luxury when I got cold running water inside.

Once during that time someone spoke of the austerity of life there. “Austerity?” I was genuinely puzzled. It had never occurred to me to think of that trailer as anything but pure bliss! It was a detail, unimportant compared to the central meaning of my life: Master, Swamiji, Ananda.

Of course, time passed and circumstances changed. Many of us would have been content to live at that level of simplicity forever. It was Swamiji who insisted that we needed to create a place also of outward refinement and beauty. “In America especially,” he said, “where money is not that hard to come by, people will think there is something wrong with our teachings if we continue to live in such a poor way.”

If people coming to Ananda see outward beauty it will inspire them to believe that our teachings, too, are beautiful, he explained. We have seen that the Temple and the courtyard surrounding it, the beautiful lawn and trees and gardens in our residential community, have awakened interest in the spirit behind those places. In fact, it is really the spirit that people respond to even in the outward expression of it.

Now, spending a week in this resort in India, it feels neither austere nor luxurious. It is merely a detail. The central meaning is lifelong friends, Swamiji, and the divine opportunity given to us by Master to serve his cause.

We are now in the airport -- airports are the ideal time to write letters! -- on the way from Goa to the Pune Community.

This is the start of a month-long training program for community residents which we will all be part of for the time we are there -- for me, one week.

I’ve never visited this community and I am eager to see and feel it and ... perhaps not until I get to the airport on the way home -- write to all of you about it.

joy,
asha


P.S. Because I have used the word consciousness so many times in this letter, I thought you might be interested in a question I received on that concept and the answer given.

Dear Asha,

I appreciate all of your insights on Master's teachings. I was wondering if I could ask you a very basic question. You mention consciousness over and over in many of your talks, as does Swamiji in his books. Is it possible to define what you are referring to? What is consciousness? What does it mean to meditate on Master's consciousness?

Thank you in advance,
Paul
California


Dear Paul:

I wrote to Swamiji's secretary, Lakshman, and asked if he could refer me to something Swamiji has written on this subject, because I couldn't remember anywhere that he has answered this question.

He responded that he doesn't think Swamiji defines consciousness anywhere in his writings, for a very interesting reason, something he has heard Swamiji say.

Consciousness is the underlying reality of everything. You can't define it because everything in creation is defined by it, not it by anything else.

Having said that, in practical terms, the way I use the word, and Swamiji also does sometimes, it means our understanding of life, our awareness, attitudes, the vibration on which we function.

Although in a recent e-mail to me, Swamiji made a distinction between understanding and approach to life and consciousness itself. So you see, any definition does not really define it.

As for meditating on Master's consciousness, fortunately, that is an experience, not a definition. I think the answer is in the Bible, referring to Jesus, "To all who received him to them gave he the power to become the Sons of God."

The best way I have found to do it is to try to put aside my own reality and enter into his. I don't know how clear that is. Perhaps if you experiment you'll understand what I mean. It isn't about praying to him, or asking him to come. It is lifting oneself into the light that he is, and then accepting and merging into that (to the extent that I can!). There are no ideas at that point about what one is doing. It is communing. Which is of the heart, not the intellect.

Hope this helps!

joy,
asha

Thursday, January 12, 2012

India Book Launch and Vivekananda's Rock

Dear Everyone:

We landed at the Mumbai airport just before the book launch event was scheduled to begin. We thought we might make it in time at least for the end of the program, but nearly 45 minutes later, still waiting for our bags, it was obvious there was no chance.

So we were sitting in the lobby of the Oberoi hotel, just checking into our rooms, when the door of the elevator opened just a few feet away from us, and out came Swamiji, with Jyotish on one side, Narayani on the other, and Lila, Devi, and Miriam following behind.

They were just returning from what turned out to be a hugely successful launch of the new biography of Master, just published in India. The hall was filled to capacity -- 1200 people -- with another 400 watching from the foyer on video screens.

When they entered the hotel lobby we didn’t know any of these facts. All we saw was Swamiji’s blue eyes radiating so much bliss that it was impossible to focus on any other reality. At the event, Swamiji spoke for more than an hour, responding, it seems, to the warmth and receptivity of the audience.

The program is posted online so you can see it there for yourselves.

Soon after we were able to sit at dinner with Swamiji, Jyotish, Devi, Narayani, and Sri Karthikeyan, our long-time friend in India who introduced Swamiji at the program. Many of you know Karthikeyan from his visits to Ananda during Spiritual Renewal Week. He is a national figure in India, the former head of the equivalent of their FBI. Now he devotes himself to working for religious unity and political peace. He is a kind and noble man, an ideal expression of the finest characteristic of the Indian people.

It was a joy to see the sweet and respectful friendship between Swamiji and Mr. Karthikeyan as they discussed Ananda, its work in India, the excellence of the program just completed, and generally the future of India and the world.

When we arrived in Mumbai our plan was to see Swamiji that evening, then leave for Goa the next day at noon. Swamiji, with three others, was going first to a place called Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of India, then coming to Goa afterwards.

His journey was a pilgrimage to a place just off shore, a granite island, really a huge, steep sided rock about the size of a football field, known as “Vivekananda’s Rock.” On that small island there was an ancient temple to the goddess Parvati and a more recently constructed temple (1970), dedicated to Swami Vivekananda.

Vivekananda, who died in 1904 (or thereabouts) at the age of 39, was the foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, a spiritual master who lived in the Kali Temple near Calcutta in Dakineshwar in the mid-1800s.

There is a close connection between Master and Sri Ramakrishna. Master Mahasaya, described with such reverence by Master in his own Autobiography, was a disciple of Ramakrishna. He is also known as “M,” the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, a compilation of the extensive and detailed notes he took of every meeting with his master. The chapter in the Autobiography, called “The Heart of a Stone Image,” is about the statue of Mother Kali at the temple at Dakineshwar where Ramakrishna lived.

Vivekenanda fulfilled for his guru the same role Swamiji has played for Master: the one who carried the teachings of the guru to the world.

Vivekananda was a young man when Ramakrishna died. Soon after, he set out alone to walk the length of India as a wandering sadhu. When he reached the southern tip, Kanyakumari, he saw, just a few meters beyond, the granite rock that now bears his name.

Here three oceans collide: the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean. The waters are turbulent and apparently no boatman was willing to take Vivekananda across, so he swam to the rock. For three days he meditated there until he received what became the guiding vision of his life, to revitalize India and carry his master’s teachings to the world.

This was at the end of 1892, they believe Christmas Day. The next year, which also happens to be the year of Master’s birth, 1893, Vivekananda came as a delegate to a Congress of All Religions in Chicago, bearing his master’s message of the unity of all religions.

Because Vivekananda’s writings were my introduction to Self-realization teachings, I have long known this story and have wanted to see this rock for myself since the age of 19. But in all our trips to India we never came close to this point.

In April 2010, Swamiji received a reading from the ancient sage Agastya, through the modern day pundits who are the custodians of Agastya’s writings. It is believe that these writings are from Treta Yuga, a higher age when the obstacle of time is dissolved. Agastya readings are similar to the Brighu readings, another sage probably from that time, being about the past, present, and future of many individuals living now, including details that made it unmistakable that the sages were able to accurately see future events.

The Agastya reading for Swamiji was exceedingly positive, promising success of every kind -- spiritual as well as with his work in the world. The reading drew a close parallel between Vivekananda and Swamiji, and the pundits urged Swamiji to make a pilgrimage to Vivekananda’s Rock, saying it would bring great benefit to his life and work.

Gradually Swamiji came to feel that he should heed this advice from Agastya, and thus planned this trip to Kanyakumari, planning to take just Narayani, Miriam, and Dharmadas with him, thinking a smaller group would be more convenient and less distracting to the inward purpose of the journey.

However, on the way to the breakfast table on Monday morning, just an hour or so before he was to leave for his flight, Swamiji suggested that Jyotish, Devi, Nirmala, David and I should come along. So over breakfast, fights were cancelled, new flights booked, hotels reserved, and other reservations changed.

Soon we were all set for a flight leaving just a few hours after Swamiji.

Kanyakumari is too small to have an airport, so we had to fly in and stay the night at a place three hours away and then drive the next day to the hotel where we would stay the night, not far from the ferry that would take us to Vivekananda’s Rock.

All the plans were made so quickly that when the taxi driver taking David and me to the airport said, “What airline?” we had to stop the car and ask others, “What city are we going to?” We didn’t even know. Trivundrem it turned out to be.

The next morning we drove the 80 kilometers -- three hours of driving -- to Kanyakumari, had lunch at our hotel, then immediately drove to the ferry. It was “high season” for pilgrimage to that spot and we had been told the line just for tickets was an hour wait. To our surprise, we were able to go right to the window.

Getting that far, however, was not an easy journey for Swamiji. Compared to the crisis he recently endured, his health is much better. But at the age of nearly 86, travel of any kind, especially in India, is not easy for him.

The weather was hot, the day sunny, with the light reflecting off the waters around us. The breeze was strong, and the way quite crowded with other pilgrims, many talking noisily and quite outward in their enthusiasm. In any crowd, our group would have stood out. Narayani, as a brahmacharini, was dressed in bright yellow, all the rest of us in blue.

Swamiji chose to walk as much as he could, but when the way was too steep, we had brought a wheelchair from the hotel for him. He cannot walk without assistance, so with a friend on either side, and one nearby pushing the empty wheelchair, our whole group, as you can well imagine, was a circling field of energy with him at the center.

All of us being old friends, we intuitively worked together to move ourselves and him safely from the car, down the long hill to the ferry dock, through the crowds onto the boat, then off onto the stone pathways of Vivekananda’s Rock.

Not surprisingly, the Indians were respectful of Swamiji, for many reasons including the fact that, although not strong physically, he was determined to visit this holy place. So no one objected when, as necessary we ignored or removed “Do not enter” signs when we needed to take a shorter, ramp route to our goal.

On the rock there is also a small ancient temple to Parvati where we stopped first, meditating for just a few moments, then circumambulating the inner shrine where a mark in the stone is said to be Parvati’s footprint.

We had been told that on the lower level of the temple to Vivekananda there was a meditation room. So we scouted it out ahead of time then took Swamiji there. For about 10 minutes we meditated together. I think most of us spent our meditation praying for Swamiji, that Master bless him, that whatever promise Agastya saw for him in this pilgrimage be fulfilled.

Swamiji has given so much to us and to so many in his lifetime. It was an honor and a joy to be able to help him in any way, even something so small as doing what we could to ease the physical challenge of visiting this rather rugged and remote spot.

Fortunately, much of the rock and some of the temple was accessible by ramp. But to reach the main room at the top of the rock, the only way was up a long flight of steep stairs. Swamiji was determined to do all that could be done at this place, so, with assistance from others, and several stops to recover his breath and strength, he went up the stairs and into the temple proper.

It was made of rock and marble, no chairs, but if it had been set up it probably would have held about 100 people. There were two smaller shrines in the back of the room -- to Ramakrishna and his wife Sarada Devi -- and a larger than life-sized statue of Vivekananda in the front. Black marble pillars supported a very high ceiling.

The guard gave Swamiji the use of his wooden stool, and for a few minutes he sat leaning against a pillar.

Then we were done. Going down the stairs was difficult, but not nearly so hard as coming up. No one in the long line of pilgrims waiting to join the ferry objected when we took Swamiji to the front of the line and boarded the ferry. Then it was back up the long steep hill to the cars. Swamiji made no attempt to walk this part, but allowed us to move him in the wheelchair, several working together because it was so steep.

We drove a short distance then stopped for tea. There had been little conversation since we started. Our concentration had been on helping Swamiji complete this pilgrimage. It wasn’t only the physical challenges. There had also been a feeling that we needed to focus our energy to cut through a kind of swirling chaos all around us. It would be obvious to say the chaos was generated by the many rajasic people making the same journey we were on but it also seemed to emanate also from a more subtle level.

It was as if we were, for a time, passing through some slightly altered dimension.

Tapasya is often a part of pilgrimage. Tapasya is austerity willingly undertaken to achieve some divine goal, and certainly for Swamiji this was a great effort. Now he and we were all spent and gratefully collapsed around the restaurant table, glad to be in the air-conditioned room out of the wind and hot sun.

Swamiji spoke two words, “Masala chai.” There was some discussion about whether these two words might be the last words spoken by this great soul. Fortunately, the universe responded quickly. Tea and “nimbu pani” (water with lime juice) soon revived Swamiji and us all.

That night and the next morning a sense of blessing grew, which Swamiji also referred to at breakfast the next morning.

It is not often one can go on pilgrimage with Swamiji, so we counted ourselves deeply fortunate to have come with him. And, as it turned out, it would have been exceedingly difficult for the small group original planned to have managed alone.

Swamiji had no interest in repeating the bumpy car ride, so he got a first-class train ticket back to Trivendrum, the only such ticket available we were told . Three others bought tickets in other classes but as it turned, regardless of their tickets, all four traveled in first class seats -- actually full-length bunks -- while others of us went by car.

One night again in Trivendrum , and now we are on the plane for Mumbai to make a connection to Goa. Unfortunately you can’t fly directly from Trivendrum to Goa so this will be ¾ of a day spent in traveling.

David and I had imagined that we would have three quiet days in Goa on our own before Swamiji arrived, but that plan was scrapped for this wonderful adventure.

Blessings to all...

Joy,
Asha

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ask Asha: My Mother Was Bitter When She Died. How Can I Help Her Now?

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I saw Swami Kriyananda’s video "What Happens After Death" and now I am worried about my mother’s “afterlife”. She doesn't believe in God and became a very bitter and difficult person. I can feel her unhappiness but can’t get through to her. I love her and I know that she has a kind heart underneath. I always believed that angels and passed "loved ones" will be there to guide us into the spiritual world. Will my mom experience this also? I can’t stand the thought of her not experiencing love and relief.

Carina
from Europe

Answer

Dear Carina:

God is no tyrant. His law is impersonal and always fair.

God lives within us and is not fooled. If your mother has, as you feel, a kind heart, be certain: God knows and will respond. “God reads the heart,” is how Paramhansa Yogananda explained it.

Justice after death is not subject to human whim. Your mother will perceive the highest reality of which she is capable. The soul longs to reunite with God. It seeks the Light the way a river seeks the sea.

Be assured, angels and other divine beings will help your mother in the astral world. But she can’t rise beyond her actual state of consciousness. I suspect during her lifetime you, and perhaps other friends, tried to coax her out of her bitterness. But if she was determined to hold onto it, probably nothing you said or did could change her.

Dying does not in itself liberate us from self-induced limitations. To the extent that we define ourselves by those limitations, to that extent — even in the astral world — we are still limited.

If her bitterness is more than personality, but extends also to a rejection of divine realities, there is no way that even God Himself can force her to open to a Light she doesn’t want to receive.

We learn through the satisfaction of Bliss to seek more Bliss. We also learn through the absence of Bliss — that is, through suffering — to question ourselves and, eventually, open to realities we may have formerly rejected.

Think about your own years growing up with your mother. Perhaps now you are a mother yourself. Certainly there are times when a child rebels against necessary — but in the perception of the child, unpleasant — requirements. Going to school, for example, or learning to share with his siblings, or doing his homework — or not eating the whole cake in one sitting!

The child may be angry, rebellious, or grief-stricken at what is being imposed upon him, but a good mother will not yield to the whim of her child. She knows the future and the child does not.

It would not be love on her part but mere cowardice to cave into his emotions when the child’s future is at stake.

So it is with our Divine Mother. She knows that all souls must learn what appear to the ego to be hard lessons. She knows the future and we don’t. Only through transcending the ego and embracing the Infinite will we find the satisfaction our heart longs to receive.

You and your mother played the part in this life of parent and child, but that is merely a garment you wore for this one incarnation. Now that she has discarded that “garment” — the body that carried you in its womb — your relationship has gone back to its underlying truth: friendship in God.

If you want to be a true friend to your mother you must now help her in the way Divine Mother would help her. To pray merely that she be happy is like giving the child the whole cake so he will stop crying. You must show the same courage and faith in God that you want your mother to have.

What you must pray for now is that your mother learn whatever it is that Divine Mother is trying to teach her. That she find within herself the courage, devotion, humility, and wisdom to move forward in her divine understanding, not merely in her ego-based feelings.

Your mother has very good karma: she raised a devotee who can now pray for her, not merely for her temporary comfort, but for her eternal well-being.

It is natural to feel sympathy for your mother’s suffering. It is a good thing to have a tender heart. But that heart must also be guided by wisdom. Too much sympathy may not be helpful to her at this time.

To become bitter is not helpful to the soul. When your mother made that choice she dug for herself an unpleasant pit of wrong understanding. Now she is living in that pit and has to decide whether to stay there or climb out.

Be assured, your mother got herself into this difficulty and she can also extricate herself from it. You need to respect your mother the way a mother needs to respect her child.

Yes, she is having a hard time now, but she has the power within her to overcome. And she will. A good mother doesn’t panic merely because her child is struggling. She stands by with calm faith.

Your prayers can help her. Especially if you pray in the right way: with gratitude for what she gave you, with tender concern for her feelings, but also with courage and faith that she can and will awaken to higher realities.

I answered another similar question on May 27, 2011, called “When a Loved One Digs Themselves into a Pit, Do What Works.” That is posted here, too, and you might find it helpful.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]
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