I realize more than two weeks have passed since I last wrote, so I have a lot of catching up to do. The last time you heard from me, I was in Goa, so I’ll start from our departure from there.
On Friday, January 18, we went from Goa to Chennai. Swamiji has been traveling with Shurjo, Narayani, Miriam, and Dharana (Miriam’s husband). Tushti and Surendra had also been taking a holiday in Goa, as were Kirtani and Anand (Ananda leaders from Assisi, Italy). So we were quite a large group, which enabled us to entertain ourselves quite well during the (seemingly inevitable) several hour delay in our flight.
During his months in India this time, Swamiji has been going every few weeks to one or another of the major cities, putting on large public programs, planting deep seeds of Self-realization in the hearts of people everywhere. This kind of travel takes a great deal of energy from Swamiji, and he doesn’t intend to do this kind of things for many years longer -- maybe a few trips next visit, maybe not. Now, though, he feels guided to carry Master’s message as far across India as he can.
Chennai turned out to be one of the most impressive programs so far.
The whole visit was well planned and well organized, led by the monk from Pune -- Devendra -- who has been visiting Chennai on a regular basis for many months. He also organized the following weekend of programs for me, but more about that later.
Ananda doesn’t have its own center in Chennai (yet) so the classes are held in a place called Asha Nivas (purely a coincidence that the name is “Asha’s Place” which means the place of hope). It is a nice center, with lots of classrooms, and good support staff providing tea and vegetarian lunch as needed, even rooms where people can stay. They have a wide variety of programs and ours fit in quite well.
On Saturday afternoon, Swamiji held a small satsang for the Ananda devotees both from Chennai and also those who came up on the train from Bangalore. About 100 people total. They could sit right at Swamiji’s feet and ask questions for an hour or so. This is an extraordinary opportunity for both darshan and teaching, given how infrequently they see Swamiji and how often the setting is larger and more formal. Those present deeply appreciated this opportunity, many sitting on the floor right at his feet.
As always, Swamiji was kind, insightful, wise, funny, and radiant with inner bliss. Everything he does is filmed and posted on the Ananda India site, so I’ll let you experience it first hand.
Swamiji’s body continues to require assistance even to walk a short distance. But once he is settled into his chair, it is immediately apparent that the divine energy flowing through him is utterly unimpeded by his elderly body. The two are separate realities for him now.
The large public program was Sunday afternoon. They rented the Music Academy Hall, which is considered to be one of the best halls in the city. There are 1500 seats, in a series of ascending balconies. Some thought this hall was larger than could be filled, but the balconies could be used in sequence in case the crowd was smaller.
No worries. Long before the program started the entire hall was filled. The choir went backstage to be ready to sing, and when their part was done, their seats were gone! They filed into the orchestra pit and perched there on a wooden ledge for Swamiji’s talk.
Not only the seats, but every aisle and spare place inside the theater was filled. Also the foyer was jammed with people watching on a video screen, and still, many were turned away.
Swamiji’s talk -- no surprise -- was far-ranging, deep, inspiring -- every good adjective you can think of just string it into this sentence. No need for me to describe, you can go online to Ananda India and hear for yourself.
The audience was mesmerized. As we well know, there is no one on the planet now who can speak of God, Guru, Infinity, and the spiritual path the way Swamiji does. There is in this country a receptivity to divine truth that is unique. (More about that later when I talk about my own experience teaching here.)
One man later told me that he was in the highest balcony (which was way up toward the ceiling). He was lamenting to himself that he didn’t arrive sooner. There was a video projection system, which at least gave a large film version of Swamiji, but Swamiji himself was only a blue smudge on the stage far blow this man’s seat.
But when Swamiji began to speak, the man told me later, it was as if Swamiji was only inches away from him. Distance dissolved. The Presence of Swamiji filled every square inch of the hall.
Because the Indian audiences are so attuned to the power of a saint, and the blessing of touching his feet, after a talk, the audience can crowd so tightly around Swamiji that he is unable to walk through to the exit door! At his age, it simply isn’t possible for him to stand and bless in the way that the people would like. He offers his blessing through the talk he gives, the music, and his presence on the stage, rather than in a personal way to such a large crowd.
Apparently, when the only way to leave the venue is for Swamiji to walk through the audience, it has to be arranged in advance to create a clear corridor by asking Ananda devotees to line up on either side to hold the audience at a little distance from him.
Given the size of the crowd, it was fortunate, that in this case Swamiji was able to arrive and depart through a stage door not visible from where the audience was sitting.
The size of this crowd -- well over 2000 people -- was gratifying to Swamiji, not only for the opportunity it gave him to speak to so many truthseekers, but also, it seemed to me, as a sort of karmic completion. Swamiji is far beyond any personal feeling in these matters, but the forces of karma still play out around him.
Swamiji first came to India in 1958, when he was still in Self-Realization Fellowship, sent by them to help develop the work in India. The story of those years is beautifully told by him in the book A Place Called Ananda. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it, not just as a piece of history, or for the sake of understanding the Ananda/ SRF “situation,” but because of the insight it gives you into the attitude of a disciple in general, and Swamiji in particular. In many ways it is the most personal book he has written.
In that book he describes in detail the situation you no doubt have heard of at least in general terms. Of how he became extremely popular and well known in India. “The American Swami,” as he was called, regularly drew huge crowds, up to several thousand. He was in his early thirties then, aflame with love for God and devotion to Master. He was about to launch Master’s mission in India in a way that would have changed the whole country.
As you probably know, at that time he received permission from Prime Minister Nehru himself for a grant of land on which to build a temple in the heart of New Delhi, the capital of the country, and, especially at that time, so soon after India gained independence, the influential heart of the whole nation.
The SRF board of directors in America, however, completely rejected that plan, and eventually rejected Swamiji himself. (This story is told in A Place Called Ananda). In July 1962, he was summoned from India to New York, and dismissed from SRF.
To insure that he was unable to return to India and pick up the work on his own (which Swamiji would not have done even if he were able to return) SRF planted false information with the Indian government, saying that Swamiji was both a CIA agent and a Christian missionary (!) and for ten years he was unable to get a visa to come back to India. By then Ananda in America was a going concern and the idea of returning permanently to India was not possible.
This all, in retrospect, was God’s perfect plan.
I am telling you all of this only to say that when Swamiji left India in 1962, he was in mid-stride in his service to Master. Everything was poised and ready to establish a great work here. Instead, he was plucked out and as a consequence everything he was doing was stopped in its tracks. Eventually he was able to visit India again, but only in 2003 did he feel the inward guidance to move back to India and take up again his work for Master in the land of Master’s birth.
When he came to India in 2003, as a way of announcing the start of Ananda’s work, he wrote a small pamphlet, describing where the work was when last he was here and where he felt Master wanted it to go now. For Swamiji, it was one continuous effort, the intervening years being nothing more than an inconvenience, now, thankfully, over.
That audience in Chennai -- overflowing the hall, standing room only -- was a return to the point where Swamiji was in 1962. It has taken these years to regain the momentum he had then. Perhaps I am only being sentimental about it, but it truly felt that not only was the event in itself a huge success, but it also represented a completion of a karmic circle that had to wait all this time to become whole.
One of the reasons this trip for me spans such a long period of time -- 8 weeks -- is because of the timing of Swamiji’s talks. The intention in Chennai, and also in Calcutta, coming up a week from now, is for me to be introduced to the large crowd Swamiji draws, in the hope that some will also come to the follow-up programs I am giving.
In Chennai, the programs were held the following weekend. Weekdays are hard because people work long hours and the traffic makes travel at the end of the day difficult.
It was decided that I would speak for a few minutes after Swamiji finished his talk and left the stage. He briefly mentioned my name during his talk as a way of showing his support for the programs that I was going to offer.
I wasn’t nervous about my few moments at the microphone, but I was focused. I have only spoken to Indian audiences a few times, and they were small informal satsangs, always in the context of one of our centers. So to be in a public venue in this way, what to speak of the size of the group, was new.
People are essentially the same everywhere, but culture and context do influence. Mostly, I realized later, culture influences me.
As it happened (more on this later, too) I had a few quiet mostly solitary days in Bangalore, before coming back to Chennai for my weekend of program. Mostly I spent these days reading Swamiji’s commentary on Patanjali. This is already published in India so it was a real treat. (Yes, I will bring home as many copies as I can carry!) Patanjali is very impersonal, and Swamiji’s commentary emphasized the issue of limiting self-definitions.
In that moment in Chennai, while Swamiji was talking and I was listening to him and at the same time thinking of having to speak after him, I was quite aware of being from a country other than India. I simply wasn’t able to shed my own self-definitions sufficiently to feel entirely a part of the audience I was going to address. There was a sense, more before I spoke than during the time I was actually talking, of wondering how to bridge what I perceived to be a gap.
Anyway, it made me concentrate very deeply during Swamiji’s hour-long talk.
My moment came and at the last moment I realized I had to stand behind a podium that was so large I had to stand on tiptoes to reach the microphone and be seen over it. I managed to put words together with some sense of Master guiding me. At least my prayer was sincere: To share with others all that Swamiji has given to me.
I also exited fairly quickly out the stage door, but many people from the audience lingered for an hour or more buying books, talking to the devotees, including asking about the classes set for the following weekend. If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have stayed to meet people.
Because there was nothing for me to do in Chennai until the following Saturday, on Monday I flew to Bangalore, where we have more devotees, and a place for me to stay (other than a hotel). Also, we had scheduled a satsang with the Bangalore group.
It was there I had the quiet days to read Patanjali. I hadn’t realized until I was able to have this semi-seclusion, how very busy I have been for months and how helpful it was to have a break.
Haridas and Roma, as you probably know, shifted from Southern California to Bangalore last October. The devotees there rented a flat, which serves now as their living place and also the meeting place for the Sangha. Teachers from Ananda have been coming to Bangalore almost on a monthly basis for many years now and the group has really come together, to the point where they can support a dedicated center and two full time acharyas. It is a wonderful assignment for Haridas and Roma, really a match made in heaven for all of them.
On Thursday, I gave a satsang for the group there in the center. There are many Kriyabans, and devotees who have been with Ananda for some years now, plus, of course, the devoted, uplifting presence of Haridas and Roma. All the ingredients for a wonderful evening. And at least from my point of view, it was.
There is an innate spirituality India that is not found in other places. In his poem, My India, Master writes with such devotion about his love for this country. And being here for any time at all, despite various inconveniences, it is obvious why he feels that way.
The next day, Friday, I flew back to Chennai. Devendra, the monk who organized everything there, met me at the airport. I’ve been in India many times but before this trip, I don’t think I ever traveled alone here.
I have always enjoyed traveling alone, whether across California or across the world. To be away from everything that is familiar, in a situation where no one knows who you are, or anything about you, in terms of self-definition, I find it quite freeing. Even more so since reading Patanjali and gaining an deeper understanding of the extent to which self-definition limits our consciousness.
Of course, these days, I have a cell phone in my pocket pre-programmed with the numbers of dozens of friends. I have a computer with a data stick to get me on the internet everywhere. I have both my ATM and my Visa card. Not to mention 20 kilos of luggage! So I am hardly the wandering sadhu with nothing but his blanket and begging bowls. Still, I find travel a delightful opportunity for expanding consciousness.
Even now, just as an exercise, when I said at breakfast, “I am writing a letter home,” I quickly corrected myself. “I am writing to California.” The only limiting definition any of us should accept is that we are devotees of God and Guru. Let everything else go, not literally, but in terms of self-definition.
Since I am talking here about traveling alone, I remember some years ago flying to India on Asiana Airlines, which had a long layover in Seoul, South Korea. Alone in that airport for several hours, I tried to think what I would do if, for some reason, global transport and communication collapsed and I had to create a life for myself in South Korea starting from nothing at all. It was expansive and fascinating, and, fortunately, in the end, only a beneficial exercise in imaginative thinking.
I participated very little in setting up the details of my program here in India, mostly because I was simply too preoccupied working on the Ananda movie and finishing the book of miracles and answered prayers. Also, never having done anything like this before, I felt unqualified to comment. First, I thought, let me gain some experience before I have an opinion.
Devendra rightly decided that Kriya Yoga is the biggest draw and scheduled as the first program what they call here “Level 1” of learning Kriya. Essentially what we call in Palo Alto “Meditation 1.”
So many people called to register, that Devendra became concerned that we would have more than the room could hold -- the comfortable limit is something just over 100. So he decided to add another Level 1 class for Sunday afternoon. That made 5 programs in two days, which suited me just fine. I had been sitting alone reading Patanjali and was more than ready to get underway!
Level 1 is a 5-hour class. We followed that with a 1.5-hour informal satsang, called “Walking in the Footsteps of the Master.” Sunday began with a 3-hour program on “Prosperity” -- which encompassed not only money, but prosperity of all kinds. Then we had a 4-hour Level 1. After an hour break, we had another 1.5-hour informal satsang, in this case questions and answers. Rather a marathon, but not that difficult. It was only two days.
Our first Level 1, as anticipated, was overfilled and some had to be redirected to Sunday. We had about 110 people. Devendra did some of the teaching for both Level 1 classes. Still, for me, it was a nice toss into the deep end of the pool. Really wonderful.
People are the same everywhere, and spiritually we are all made by God the same way. The teachings don’t change.
Quite a few times, during the breaks, and before and after the programs, I found myself surrounded by a small group of truth-seekers. Their heart-centered receptivity was both a joy to experience and a great example to me of a deeply appealing way to be before God and one another.
When I was speaking to the group, I was rarely at a loss for words (I am sure those of you who know me are not surprised to hear this!), but I felt I went in and out of alignment with those to whom I was speaking. All credit for whatever flow there was goes to the magnetism, sincerity, and receptivity of the audience. All limitation was due to those pesky self-definitions that even 10,000 miles of travel was not enough to escape.
There were many fine devotees and soon-to-be devotees in the people that I met there. By the fifth program -- Sunday night questions and answers -- I think I was feeling much more integrated. I am most interested to see how things go in the rest of my time here.
As it happens, Bryan McSweeney was able to be there in Chennai. And, we hope, at all or most of the rest of the programs that I do in India. This means not only good video recordings (which will be posted on Ananda Palo Alto website, and perhaps Ananda India, also) but also, in some places, live streaming in real time of the programs. Timing doesn’t always work for everyone, since India is a 12-hour flip from America. And this time we put the notice out at the last minute, but once we confirm the ability to stream, we’ll try to let you know more in advance.
It was delightful to get e-mails from some of you who watched from America my debut classes in India. I love Dwapara Yuga!
Amit, who recently moved from Palo Alto to India, is also a travel companion. He is doing wonderfully well here. I had to laugh when I phrased it in my mind that “he looks at home here.” Naturally! He is from India, in fact, from Pune city, right where our community is located. His skill in the local language, as well as Hindi, is a great asset. Because of his supportive and competent presence, I am able to let go completely of any need to keep track of the practical details. A great blessing. And if Bryan can’t always be with us, Amit can take over the video and even the streaming where possible.
Dhuti (formerly a resident of Ananda Village, now part of the global gypsy corps mostly following Swamiji around the world) was also with us in Chennai, and will be in Calcutta, where we go next. Her chanting, singing, and upbeat enthusiasm for everything is also adding a delightful element to the whole experience.
One element of teaching here in India, which is a large part of what I am trying to intuit my way through, is the fact that, in contrast to the West, there is already enormous familiarity with “these teachings,” or so it seems.
In the West, you have to struggle against the complete ignorance of many people (when they start on this path) about the most basic ideas: guru, karma, reincarnation, chakras, etc. Of course, nowadays, these words are more known, but still, people, although interested, are frequently skeptical. And, in the West we often go first by our intellects, which is not entirely a bad idea, but is different from the way Indians, as a culture, respond.
Here, the basic tenets of this teaching are well understood. You don’t have to explain starting with the first letter of the alphabet.
I came to this path at the age of 22, and soon after went to live at Ananda Village. Although “village” at that time was a bit of an overstatement for what was there. In fact, the word “village” came later; at that time we called that part of Ananda “The Farm.”
I was under the impression at that time that what Master brought to the West was “Hinduism,” or at least a variation on it.
In those years, we lived a rather isolated rural life. The internet and cell phones didn’t exist. Forget radio or television. We didn’t have them and didn’t want them. And, oh yes, in most places there was no electricity so it wasn’t an option in any case.
Ananda, especially at the Meditation Retreat where I lived at first, was its own world. Expansive, but self-contained.
Swamiji was closer to his years in India and allowed that bhav to permeate the community. He often wore Indian clothes, had his hair long, and frequently sang the devotional songs he had learned during his time in India.
And what did I know about Indian culture or religion? Only what I was learning there at Ananda.
So I was a little surprised, many years later -- fast forward to 1986, our first pilgrimage to India -- to find out that Master’s teachings are about as Hindu as they are Catholic! Which is to say, you can see how the threads intersect, but what Master brought is exactly what he said he brought: A new expression.
What we have now of Christianity and Hinduism -- both, in essence, Sanataan Dharma -- have come through the long transforming filter of Kali Yuga both descending and ascending again. You can see the eternal truth there, but it is not always obvious.
Thus the need for Master’s incarnation. Babaji and Jesus together have planned the salvation of this age, as we are told in Autobiography of a Yogi and in Swamiji’s book The New Path. And this line of Masters is the expression of that new plan for a new age: Dwapara Yuga ascending.
I’ve been thinking about these things for many years, from the comfort of the living room of Chela Bhava, where we live in the Palo Alto community. Now all my reflections are being refined in the cold light of day -- more accurately, the warm light of day -- in the company of these wonderful devotees.
Swamiji’s simple advice to me about this tour is always in the forefront of my mind. Speaking first of his own life, Swamiji said, “Everything I have done has been in service to Master.” Then he added, “Think of what you are doing in the same way.” How simple. How divinely helpful.
What is Master’s mission to India? How can I be an instrument of Guru’s intention to bring to the land of his birth, and the birthplace and eternal custodian of these teachings, Master’s new expression?
At the moment I lack clear intuition, but I am sincere in my desire to serve, and trust that God and Guru will guide me.
After Chennai, our traveling band took a plane back to Pune city. The plane was delayed 3-hours -- delayed air flights are a national sport in India, apparently -- and so we hung out in a café, sampling sequentially much of the menu -- until it was time to leave. The joy of Ananda is that just being with gurubhais is so delightful, it really doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing. God and His joy are also present.
Pune city is 1.5 hours from “the land,” i.e., the Ananda community. Pick-up had been arranged and we piled into a comfortable taxi for the ride, which included an important stop at “the best ice cream store in India.” I can’t speak about it’s national ranking, but taken on its own terms, it was definitely world class. Fresh fig ice-cream: highly recommended.
The Pune community, in a rather remote rural area, some distance from the city, perched on a hillside overlooking a beautiful valley, is a little more advanced in its development than Ananda Village was when I arrived there in 1971. Jaya, who has lived in India for some years, and also is a founding member of Ananda Village, says Ananda Pune community is about where Ananda Village was in 1976 -- when so much of it burned down!
I am quite comfortably -- let me correct that -- I am luxuriously situated in one of the large guest rooms. Spacious living area, large sleeping loft, my own bathroom, including a hot water shower. Everything -- and more -- that a devotee could want.
I love being here. Many people here are living in tents, sharing the one shower house, so I am quite at the top of the food chain in terms of accommodations. So much is still simple, rural, and like a vibrant seed just sending up its first green shoots, bursting with potential, determined to reach for the sun, the air, and the sky.
The residents number about two dozen, from a several different countries, including a core group of monks.
Swamiji is in residence here now. It was the first priority when the community started: to provide a home base for Swamiji in India where he could rest and write and do whatever work he felt inspired to do, and still be able to travel and reach out to the rest of the country. It has worked very well.
Never one to stay idle even for a day, Swamiji took up a most unexpected project, and in a little over a week, completed it.
In the early 1900s a woman writer named Marie Corelli produced quite a few novels, some of which were popular at the time. She was a woman of sensitivity and spiritual idealism and wrote on those themes.
Her novel, The Life Everlasting, is apparently the only novel Master ever read through to the end. Swamiji has read her books, and many of us at Ananda have also enjoyed them. There are so few novels with a genuinely spiritual theme. Her books stand out for that reason alone.
I once read a review about another author’s book, in which the reviewer said that the problem with the book was that “there were too many pages between the front and back cover.”
Unfortunately, that could also be said about some of Marie Corelli’s writings. She seemed to like the sound of her own voice -- which was often lovely -- and sometimes forgot that to write more is not always to write better.
Also, although deeply sincere in her spiritual aspirations, her understanding was limited.
In The Life Everlasting, for example, the theme is perfect Love. A deeply appealing subject. The theme essentially is the idea of soulmates, which, in her book, ends up being the heroine (who strongly resembles the author herself) eventually uniting with her eternal romantic partner, and the two of them spending the rest of their lives -- actually, time everlasting -- cruising around on his fabulous yacht. I don’t mean to might light of what is actually a beautiful story. But her understanding was limited.
Well, finally to get to the point, Swamiji has rewritten her book. He describes what he has done as “inspired by, and a complete rewrite” of Marie Corelli’s novel. He keeps her essential theme, plot, characters, and some of her beautifully descriptive prose, but expands, clarifies, and uplifts the whole theme.
Without giving away the new plot, suffice to say, the story does not end with the two of them cruising around on a yacht for time everlasting. Their lives become more expansive and serviceful.
He asked me to read the whole manuscript, in two sittings as he finished it, and I find it entrancing. I feel he captured her intention, took what she was able to do to the place where, I believe, she wanted to take it herself, but did not have the skill or wisdom to do. There is an exquisite vibration to what he has written, which deeply touches the heart, as the theme of perfect Love would do.
So, counting The Time Tunnel, and Pilgrimage to Guadalupe, both of which use a fictional setting to tell a good tale and also to share high vibrations and divine truths, we can now add to Swamiji’s list of attributes, the word “novelist.”
He certainly sets the bar high for what it means to be a disciple serving the Guru.
Yesterday I was invited to give a satsang for the community on the subject of discipleship. It was a lovely opportunity to share on my favorite subject: Swamiji as the perfect disciple. This latest creative work on his part just the last in a long string of such moments.
It was a joy to share with the devotees here, a deeply devoted group of disciples. That satsang was filmed and before too long you can find it on the Ananda Palo Alto site.
Which brings us pretty much right up to the present moment.
The writing of this letter was briefly interrupted so I could attend a short blessing ceremony for the newest addition to the community: a compact white van, actually an ambulance, that one of the monks here, Aditya, who is also a medical doctor, is outfitting as a mobile clinic so he can more easily serve the rural residents. Also he is giving classes in various cities on true health and vitality and this new vehicle will serve that outreach ministry. He turned on both the flashing blue light (the traditional color here, nicely more appropriate for a devotee doctor than flashing red) and also the siren -- surprisingly mellow and sweet in tone. We gathered around the new vehicle, blessing both it and the whole enterprise.
Then we ate coconut dipped in sugar, apparently the tradition when launching a new enterprise.
Jyotish and Devi are also in India now. They spent time in Gurgaon, now they are in Bangalore for the weekend, and arrive in Pune next week. There was a meeting with them and all the leaders of Ananda’s work in India and one can feel the growing magnetism of all that is happening here.
This weekend Jaya and I are sharing a few classes on the Patanjali commentary, which should be fun. The community is also a retreat and many weekends guests come. On Sunday Swamiji gives the morning satsang.
I haven’t even mentioned Tushti and Surendra. I saw them just a little in Goa and Chennai, but since then we have been in separate cities. They, for the meeting in Gurgaon, followed by time in Delhi working on their visas (send a lot of light for the smooth and easy completion of that task). They return soon and then we will have more time together.
At the end of next week, we all go to Calcutta. On the weekend, Swamiji gives the program. I believe I will also be introduced in the same way I was in Chennai. There we are having classes all through the week after, as well as the following weekend. One late afternoon satsang each day, then a few more daytime programs on Saturday and Sunday.
Because Swamiji’s programs are spaced some weeks apart, and since my programs are introduced by his, I find myself with these gaps of time with not that much public work to do. I wouldn’t have minded being busy everyday, but this cannot be called a hardship! So much delightful time with new and old friends, and a few opportunities to contribute, for which I am grateful.
Once I go to Calcutta, there are three solid weeks of almost daily programs. First in Calcutta, then moving to Gurgaon, Delhi, and Noida, where we have established centers. They have arranged satsangs, classes, and also have set up one or two more public programs.
Distance indeed makes this heart grow fonder and I thank God everyday for your friendship, love, and continuing prayers, that all of us together may grow more expansive in our service, more pure in our love, and more unconditional in our joy in God.
Love in Master,