From Saturday, April 20, until the present moment — 5am here in Assisi, Italy, on Friday, April 26 — we have been caught in a whirlwind of experiences such as we have never experienced before, and could never experience again.
For the past year, I, and many others have been deeply engaged in creating a movie about Ananda. I’ve written about it extensively in other letters, so I won’t go into detail here. The title is Finding Happiness, although, for some odd reason, almost every time I write or say it, I first call it Finishing Happiness and then have to correct myself.
The director’s cut of the movie was done in January and I took it to India to show Swamiji. I wrote about that in detail in a letter at that time, so I won’t say more, except that he felt that it was the culmination of his life’s work, because it would launch the communities movement in the way Master had wanted, and Swamiji had vowed to do. We had no idea at that time on how many levels the word “culmination” would prove true.
First credit for the making of Finding Happiness goes to Shivani, a founding member of Ananda Village and also Ananda Assisi. When Swamiji asked Shivani to work on the movie, the idea of making it seemed so far from reality that only a few believed it was possible. Shivani simply won’t take “no” for an answer. Every set back -- and there were many -- was just grist for the mill of her will power. And in the end, the universe cooperated, and we have an extraordinary movie that really is the story of Ananda.
Shivani had taken this on as a very personal service to Swamiji. She wanted to provide for him exactly what the movie turned out to be: a fulfilling summation of his life’s work so that, when the time came, Swamiji could leave this world with certainty in his heart that he had fulfilled Master’s commission to him. “You have a great work to do,” Master told him. As Swamiji said, after viewing the movie, every aspect of what he has done is contained there.
Just a few weeks later — Sunday, April 21, 8a.m. in Assisi, Italy — Swamiji did merge into the Infinite. Indeed, his work was done.
Although the formal Ananda “launch” of the movie is set for the end of July, and the public launch of it won’t be until September, it was agreed that each of the colonies could have a preview showing as soon as the DVDs were ready.
As it happened, in Palo Alto, our annual members gathering was set for April 20, the movie was ready in time, so the first showing happened at 5pm on that day. The response was everything we hoped for and more. Of course, it was a family audience, but an astute and honest one. We have great hopes for the worldwide reception of Finding Happiness.
This is all by way of prelude.
After the showing, our gathering continued for a couple of more hours, then, deeply satisfied we made our way home. The anticipation of the preview had exhausted me, and I fell immediately asleep. Two hours later, I suddenly found myself wide awake and was sitting reading at 11pm when the phone rang.
The first call was from Devi relaying a message from Kirtani: “Swamiji is having great difficulty breathing.”
“What does that mean?” I demanded of Devi. But she knew nothing more.
A few minutes later, Kirtani called. “Swamiji is free,” she said simply.
Despite the late hour, we began to call people to let them know what had happened, eventually walking from door to door in our community waking people up with the news. We gathered in our community temple to chant, meditate, pray, and talk quietly together about this momentous, and unexpected, change.
Swamiji had been hinting for many months. The letter he sent at Easter was clearly a note of farewell, but none among us believed it would be so soon. Although I have been saying to David for a long time. “When he departs, we can’t say he didn’t warn us.”
Still, it happened so quickly. Within 15 minutes of showing distress, he was gone. Peacefully. Gracefully. Master called and Swamiji went with him into the Infinite.
Immediately after conveying the news, Kirtani said, “Are you coming?”
I have to say, this was a situation I had never envisioned. Not the fact that Swamiji would leave his body. That I have been thinking about for many years. He has been so close to the edge so many times. But somehow I always thought I would be there when he breathed his last.
It wasn’t something I felt I necessarily needed. I just thought it would happen that way, that we would have enough notice to travel to wherever he was and say a final good-bye, and perhaps help with our prayers when the moment came.
I’ve always kept my passport up-to-date and virtually in hand for that reason. When it had to be renewed, even though it may have seemed a little foolish, I paid a high premium to have it done in 24 hours. And I prayed intensely that Swamiji would not choose those hours to depart.
I had never thought about this scenario. So we had no answer for Kirtani. But a few hours later, it was obvious to David and me that we needed to leave for Assisi, as soon as we could.
In the meantime, after an almost all-night vigil, we had to plan a Sunday Service dedicated to Swamiji to respond on the divine level to this life-changing event.
Grace descended, and through the morning and afternoon we drew together as a spiritual family. By Sunday afternoon we marveled over the events of the last 16 hours.
The experience of watching Finding Happiness just the evening before had been a time of profound unity, celebration, and deep appreciation for the power and blessing of all that we -- the entire global spiritual family -- have done together, due, above all, to the inspiration and guidance of Swami Kriyananda.
Just hours later, in the dark of the night, we were in the Temple trying to absorb the fact that Swamiji had left his body -- not left us, but left his body. A new era had begun.
Before we left for Sunday Service we had plane reservations to fly to Italy on Monday morning. Then we cancelled those and made new reservations for a more suitable itinerary. Then we noticed we were paying twice what we should, so we cancelled those reservations and finally set the trip in the right way.
It was not a significant in itself, but symbolic of the swirling energy and feelings of that day.
Almost all the colony leaders from India and America were coming to Assisi, plus a number of others who also felt drawn to be there. Over several hours, on Tuesday morning, starting at 7:30am, about 15 of us from America, on several different flights arrived at the airport in Rome, which is about 3 hours by car from Ananda Assisi.
Every other time that we have come to Assisi, it has been to see Swamiji. I am accustomed to living away from him. It has been many decades since I lived in the same community. For years we haven’t even been on the same continent. When I am away from him, I don’t feel deprived. But when the time comes to see him again, I am impatient with any delay. “Enough already” is my inner attitude! Let us go NOW to wherever he is.
We were in the first wave, and just as we were about to get into the elevator to go pick up the rental car, we saw Kirtani in a nearby coffee shop. Immediately we went over to greet her. She and Anand had come to pick up Jyotish and Devi. An elaborate system of renting cars and being picked up had been worked out the night before.
For three hours we sat there, as people arrived from America: Daiva, Gangamata, Nischala and Nakula from Portland. Sabari from Sacramento. Hriman from Seattle. Narayan, Dharmadevi, Bhagavati, and Ramesha from Los Angeles. Dharmaraj and Dharmini, presently at the Village but soon to move to Chennai, India. Jyotish and Devi from Ananda Village. And from Mexico City, Anaashini. (The group from India arrived a day later.)
It was more practical to drive in a caravan, since no one except Kirtani and Anand were certain of how to get there, but we also waited for everyone to arrive because there was no reason to hurry. The opportunity to be with Swamiji, which has been the central point around which my life has orbited since the first day I met him in November 1969, had shifted. We could sit for hours in the Rome airport, being with our friends, greeting others as they arrived, for there was no compelling reason to be anywhere else.
I have not been touched by death in the way many have. My parents have passed away. Dear friends have gone to the astral world. I am deeply steeped in the teachings of Self-realization, though, so I know they have simply gone on to another reality. They are not “lost,” just out of sight for now. But it isn’t really because of the teachings that I feel I have not been touched as others have. The reason is more mundane. Much as I have loved those who have left this planet for another world, our lives were united on the spiritual level, but not in a day-to-day way. So their absence, though heartfelt, was not so acute. I could simply be happy for them in their new adventures without any thought of myself.
Not so with Swamiji. Even though I live many months of the year away from him, the times with Swamiji have always been the defining reality of my life. In between, I carry out my duties with joyous, creative, enthusiasm. I feel him with me, so I am not lonely, I don’t feel separated. But when the opportunity does come to be with him -- those moments are like the pearls on the thread of my life.
Now, in the Rome airport, in the tiniest way, the fact that we could sit for hours without any sense of need to be somewhere else, was the first tiny opening of the door into the rest of my life.
No surprise that all of us were still operating under a sense of unreality. Even Anand and Kirtani, who had been with Swamiji when he breathed his last, had been so caught up, as all of us were, in giving services and helping others that we hadn’t begun to integrate this reality into our own lives. Now it was starting.
Eventually we made our way to Assisi, drove to the parking lot by the reception area, and greeted a few friends. Then someone said, “Do you want to go to the Temple?” The answer, of course, was “Yes.”
Within a few hours after Swamiji’s passing his body was moved to the Temple. Day and night since then there have been people meditating there. Italian law required that the body be embalmed, so it was possible to keep the casket open. Silently we walked up the stairs and down the pathway to the Temple.
A body after the soul has left is so still, so peaceful, and in Swamiji’s case, so beautiful. He was dressed in a deep blue Nayaswami robe we had seen him wear many times before. His feet were bare, his hands gracefully, elegantly resting on his abdomen. His eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open. He wasn’t in the body, but he was in the Temple. Unmistakably present.
Despite jet lag and all that had happened since Saturday afternoon, we sat down immediately and meditated for a long time.
That night there was informal sharing by community members of their experiences with Swamiji. The next day, Wednesday, was a memorial service. The Temple was completely filled, with many sitting outside the open windows on the surrounding deck.
Seats had been arranged in the front row for all the colony leaders. I was already seated when Jyotish and Devi came in.
Many years ago, Swamiji announced that Jyotish would be his spiritual successor. For many years, he and Devi have been leading worldwide Ananda with inspiration, grace, and wisdom. But this was different. I stood in respect for him, as we have long done for Swamiji.
For the last several years, Swamiji has been taken care of by Narayani. Her duties with him have been all-consuming, especially as Swamiji’s body has declined. During the Memorial Service she spoke and it was deeply touching to hear from her about Swamiji’s passing and the time immediately afterwards.
Kirtani, Anand, Jyotish, Devi and I also spoke. And there was much beautiful singing and chanting. That service was recorded and is online so you can see it for yourself. Many people spoke in English and then were translated into Italian, or if they spoke Italian, were translated into English, so you can understand everything.
At the end, everyone came forward as we chanted and each put rose petals into the casket. By the end, only his face and feet were showing. Swamiji was not in his body, of course, but now there was enormous life force in the casket, created by the deep love and devotion of all the devotees.
That day and the night before so many people spoke of how close they felt to Swamiji. To each he was their best friend. During his lifetime he appeared to be outside of us, but his consciousness united with something deep within our hearts. The love he gave us was the love of God.
The last public talk Swamiji gave was on Easter Sunday. And the last words of that talk were, “If you knew how much God loves you, you would die for Joy.”
That talk, along with an English translation, has also been posted on the Ananda Assisi website.
Swamiji’s house here in Assisi is called Seva Kutir. As you have heard from other reports, he was lying on his bed there when he breathed his last. Spread out now on his bed are the robe he was wearing, the shawl that was under his feet, his slippers, and the other things he had on his body at the moment of passing: bangles, rings, watch.
Narayani and her husband Shurjo live in the downstairs bedroom. Jyotish and Devi are also staying at Seva Kutir. When Swamiji was not in Assisi, Kirtani and Anand would stay in the downstairs room and the house would be used for community events. That will continue. Swamiji’s room was not used except by him. Now it will be a shrine and meditation room for everyone.
We came to Assisi also to be with our fellow colony leaders, and yesterday we gathered at Seva Kutir, first to have a long meditation in Swamiji’s bedroom, then to talk together in the living room where we so often sat with him.
By the grace of God, I have been able calmly to carry out all that had to be done since that call came at 11pm on Saturday. As I explained at the Sunday Service the next day, I have been preparing myself as best I could for this moment for many years. If only Swamiji was one of those yogis who lives for centuries! But it was clear he was not.
Even after I arrived in Assisi, even seeing Swamiji’s body, the fact of his absence, on some level, had not really sunk in. It was only when we went to Seva Kutir that it finally entered my heart with the finality only death carries.
Although it was a joy to be in the place we had so often been with him, it was also, in the end the place where my heart broke.
So many people have been so kind to me, comforting me as a daughter who has lost her father. Which I am, as are all of us -- Swamiji’s spiritual children, brothers and sisters in the Guru. Now our beloved father, after a long lifetime of continuous giving, has gone into the Infinite.
All of your kind words and affections I have received, appreciatively, but without truly receiving them in my heart. I didn’t yet need them. Now I do, and I have received them, and I am deeply grateful.
Tears come, but then cease. Swamiji understands. But it is not the response he wants from us. At the memorial service, Narayani spoke of weeping uncontrollably for an entire afternoon. Then feeling in her heart, “This is not what Swamiji would want from me.”
Or from me, or from any of us.
We all remember how Master wept at the funeral of his beloved Sister Gyanamata. “Dear Sister,” he cried. And at the same time, through his tears, spoke of how he saw as she was absorbed into the Infinite.
We live on many levels. “I will never see Swamiji again.” That is a fact that has to be faced. How often has Swamiji said, “We have to deal with reality.” And I am. And at the same time... well, it has to be faced. I will never see him again.
Years ago, when Swamiji was feeling very weak in his heart and thought his time to leave his body might be near, I said to him, “You have given us so much. You have served Master with the energy of 10 men and accomplished everything he asked of you. It would be pure selfishness to try in any way to hold you here. But you are the only thing that has made life on this planet bearable. It won’t be as much fun to be here after you are gone.”
With such tender understanding, referring to March 7, 1952, when, after only 3.5 years of life with his Guru, Master left his body, Swamiji said, “I know. I have been through it.”
The tears, for the moment, have passed. I pray they won’t return. If they do, I will live through it, but it is not the response Swamiji would want from us. Nor is it the truth as I well know, and could also explain eloquently. But sometimes heart and mind and spirit divide into several pieces, and one just has to wait patiently until they knit back together again, as they will.
Master often said to Swamiji, “You have a great work to do.” Later, after Master’s passing, Rajarsi Janakananda, Master’s spiritual successor, said those same words to Swamiji, adding, “And Master will give you the strength to do it.”
On his 80th birthday, surrounded by hundreds of loving friends at the celebration at Crystal Hermitage garden at Ananda Village, Swamiji told us again of Master’s commission to him and Rajarsi’s promise. Then looking out at the sea of loving faces before him, Swamiji added, “And you are the strength Master promised me.”
Someone wrote on Facebook, “Swamiji has left his body. All our jobs just got bigger!”
This letter about Swamiji’s passing began with news about Finding Happiness and will now also end with it. Somehow the completion of that movie and the completion of Swamiji’s life are intertwined. Shortly after writing most of this letter, almost 300 of us went to a nearby movie theater to attend the preview showing in Italy of Finding Happiness -- with Italian subtitles. Watching it again, seeing Swamiji speak and laugh and move on the screen was particularly poignant, inasmuch as we have most recently been spending time with that same body, but absent the animating spirit we saw on the screen.
And even though there was notable unfolding of tissue, and wiping of tears, it was impossible not also to be joyful -- utterly filled with joy -- to see the beautiful expression of all that we have done together in fulfillment of Master’s dream.
In divine friendship,