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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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,
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!