Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Auckland, Hamilton & General Tourist Time

Dear Friends:

We are in the last week of our time here. On November 4 we fly back to California (except for Dambara who is joining a pilgrimage in Israel before returning to Oregon).

We leave the night on the 4th and arrive the morning of the same day, getting back what we lost on the way over.

Inward glimpses of California occasionally break through now, but the best policy is still: “Be here now.”

We are with Kavita and Aroon again in Hamilton. Last weekend we had a Saturday retreat, Sunday service, and then a talk on “Happiness” at the local Theosophical society. Tonight we have informal satsang.

We were warned in advance that New Zealanders are more “British than American,” meaning more reserved. They have to get to know you before they’ll ask questions or share experiences.

I scheduled classes for 2.5 hours -- a lot of time for a lecture, just right when people interact and engage.

Sometimes it worked. In Wellington the time flew by. By the end of the first weekend in Hamilton, the audience was contributing more. Informal satsangs are going well.

Since Palmerston North, we’ve included more music, chanting, and meditation. Probably the best idea from the start, but I’ve had to learn by doing.

People often ask me about their own spiritual progress, “Can I do more?”

My answer is a question, “Are you pushing against the edge of the unknown rather than coasting on habit?”

Nice to be able to answer those questions: Coasting: No. Learning: Yes.

Swamiji set the example of creatively serving God and Guru to the last breath. Just weeks before his passing, he finished his last book. I want my tiny feet to follow his mammoth footprints.

As I rounded the corner of 60 years -- and kept on going -- I wondered how to stay spiritually dynamic to the end.

When Swamiji announced the New Renunciate Order (June 2008) he asked me, “What do you think?”

I said, “The answer to a prayer. This will save me from spiritual mediocrity.”

“Yes,” Swamiji said. My concern was justified.

The ideal Indian lifestyle brings everyone to sannyas in their last years. Walking off into the forest isn’t the model Swamiji set. Giving everything to God is.

Talking about Self-realization to a new friend here, she exclaimed, “There is so much to learn!”

“Yes,” I said happily. “Whenever you think you have reached the edge of the possible, the possible expands before you, literally to Infinity!”

I had hardly reached the edge of the possible in 2008, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Nayaswami vows solved that nicely.

In Auckland, the venue Kavita chose is also a retreat center. We promoted it like any other class series. Though set in a secluded valley, the venue is close to town. People came and went for the various programs.

All of us, though, and about seven others, lived at the retreat. Meals, sadhanas, and lots of time for conversation proved transformative.

There is so much to Ananda. One hardly knows where to begin! My way is to give classes -- karma, reincarnation, meditation -- as much of the “Self-realization curriculum” as I could cover.

Having Dambara to sing was essential. A few minutes of song can change consciousness more than hours of words.

Still, even with lots of words, music, sadhana, and satsang, one barely touches the surface.

For introducing Ananda to a new audience, Finding Happiness is a godsend. It is almost like being there. Everyone in the movie, and the ideas they present, expands the definition of what Ananda is and how to be part of it.

On Friday, we go to Lake Taupo for a weekend retreat.

It is a gorgeous setting. Weather report says: warm and sunny. (We now read and quote these unreliable reports like native New Zealanders, for whom weather is an ever-fascinating, because always changing, dimension of life.)

About 20 have signed up, mostly people we have already met (plus two from Australia). Being together for three days we hope will launch Ananda New Zealand into the future.

When we were filming Finding Happiness we had to constantly remind ourselves, “We can’t include everything. This movie alone will not teach someone how to start a community.”

But it can inspire people to learn how to start one.

Many times since we arrived here I’ve had to repeat this to myself: In one class, one weekend, one month we can’t teach everything about the spiritual path.

But we can inspire people to want to know more.

May we be able to awaken Thy love in all hearts: our constant prayer.

As Swamiji often said, you can live next door to the best restaurant in the world, but if you aren’t hungry, you won’t go in.

Fortunately, when spiritual hunger comes, in Dwapara Yuga, everyone lives next door to a spiritual smorgasbord. Passing out a directory of online classes, websites, and YouTube channels has been central to what we are doing here.

In one of our programs, Dambara sang (exquisitely) some of Swamiji’s songs of divine longing -- like Through Many Lives, Mother of Us All, Divine Romance, Door of My Heart.

People sometimes feel Swamiji’s music is sad. After the singing, I felt to comment.

Belief in God is not enough. You must also long for Him. Longing moves you toward God, and pulls God toward you. Longing for God is what these songs awaken.”

“I have only two desires in life,” Swamiji said, “To realize God and to help others also to realize Him.”

We place our tiny feet next to Swamiji’s giant footprints.

In these last days, we’ve had time to be tourists. Rachel is a born tour guide and has planned marvelous excursions. We’ve bathed in geo-thermal waters, climbed to the base of a giant waterfall (and back up again), communed with amazing trees, climbed over rocks on a black sand beach.

Mother Nature rules in New Zealand! And we bask in Her glory.

We are so grateful to God and Gurus for bringing us here, for re-uniting us with soul brothers and sisters, and letting us help launch Ananda New Zealand.

Jai Guru.

In divine friendship,
Asha for all here
Kiwis and Americans united in Master’s ray!

P.S. The ongoing photo album for the New Zealand tour can be found here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wellington & Palmerston North, New Zealand

Dear Everyone:

Mid-tour everyone needed rejuvenation. Dambara went off on a hike, Bryan, Rachel, and Atmajyoti are at the beachhouse of a friend, Cancer-me chose to stay home in Hamilton. The trip is jam-packed, but with enough down time to also keep it fun-filled.

Air, food, and water are prana-rich, so we continue healthy, and after a few days off, well-rested.

Tomorrow everyone returns to Hamilton and Friday we go to Auckland for the weekend. That venue is also a retreat facility. Fortunate, since we have no friends there (yet) to host us. We planned a series of classes then added sadhanas to turn it into a retreat.

That’s the future; here’s the past.

Wellington started with a program at the Theosophical Society. The Theosophists have not been on my radar until we got here. The movement started in the late 1800’s and was a groundbreaker for world brotherhood and spiritual adventurousness, promoting unity of race and religion, the idea of Mahatmas guiding the planet toward evolution of consciousness, and metaphysical thinking in general.

It has no creed of its own, but fosters honest exploration of all paths. It continues to be a force in New Zealand. In both Wellington and Palmerston North we have been hosted/aided by the society.

The Wellington Theosophical Society has a marvelous old building, narrow, high ceiling room, wood trim and floors, and an extensive lending library of spiritual and occult books. Some join just for the library, which now includes a selection of Swamiji and Master donated by us.

About 40 people came, half Theosophists, half there for the first time. A decades-long tradition of spiritual inquiry gave the room a unique flavor. The subject -- The Yugas -- was ideal for the place and the audience.

For the weekend, we moved to St. Andrews Church, another fabulous old building in downtown Wellington. Friday was in the sanctuary; Saturday classes in a smaller, modern room in the annex.

The sanctuary included one of those elevated platforms with a waist-high railing where the minister can stand to deliver his message. I enjoyed the God’s eye view it gave, but for the program opted for ground level.

I’m glad to have moved on from those church-going days, but the real estate is gorgeous, and the atmosphere profound.

St. Andrews was a marvelous venue, and I’m happy to have spent an evening there, but it was spacious for the 20 people who came. Choosing the right size venue is the hardest part of tour planning -- the delicate balance between optimism and realism.

We’ve done well enough for our maiden voyage.

It was June 2012, when Swamiji asked me to become a “global ambassador.” Profound moments often happen in mundane settings. We were walking into the Stanford Shopping center when -- between the teashop and the luggage store -- my life was redirected.

I told Swamiji I, too, felt a change was needed, and was working with websites, webinars, and a YouTube channel, to be “Global from my living room.”

“Personal contact is also important,” he replied.

Information, vibration, even consciousness comes across the internet. I watch Swamiji’s videos almost daily. Something happens in person, though, that can’t happen any other way. Especially a first contact.

I felt that in India, but even more here. Perhaps because in New Zealand Master is little-known and people are attracted as much by example as precept. Ananda people are unique.

Another reason for personal contact: more relationships are possible than just with the featured creature -- oops, featured speaker. During the breaks in the classes, everyone is fully engaged.

None of us can imagine doing this tour with anyone but this team. But, in fact, we could substitute dozens of times, probably a hundred times, and each team would be an equal expression of harmony, attunement, talent, individuality/eccentricity, and joy.

All of Krishna’s soldiers look like Krishna. And all Master’s children raised by Swamiji express the same spirit.

At the end of a recent program, with tears in her eyes a woman said to me, “You must keep on doing God’s work in this way.”

Someone later asked about the whole group, “What are you doing that makes you so different?”

That’s the right question. As Swamiji often said, you meet one or two good people you credit them personally. If you meet a whole group you think, “It must be what they are doing.”

The Wellington classes were delightful. Small attendance, not more than 10, but each person was interested, intelligent, open, and fully engaged. It was effortless to talk to them -- first about intuition, then about death and dying -- because of the magnetism in the room.

Earlier in the week we played tourist in Wellington, strolling by the harbor, taking the funicular to a botanical garden, walking down the hill through acres of plants, trees, and flowers to lunch by the rose garden. Wellington can be cold and windy, but for us it was warm and sunny.

The city is a pleasant blend of energy and relaxation. That seems to be the characteristic of this country.

It reminds us of Switzerland, in the way everything is clean and neat, even in the less prosperous areas.

And in wealthy neighborhoods, things are simpler than in the U.S. Houses less elaborately designed and decorated. Certainly there is materialism, but not as avid as we are used to.

Every meditation, no matter how new the group, has been exceptionally still. Swamiji said that many New Zealanders are naturally attuned to subtle realms, a legacy in the land from the Maoris. Perhaps that is part of what we are feeling.

Visiting a new friend in a quiet neighborhood today it occurred to me, “New Zealand is a good place for sadhana.” Expanding Light New Zealand could be a popular destination. Plus a community to run it. Energy and relaxation. Perfect.

Oh dear. I’m getting ahead of October 15, 2014! Better get back to, “Do our best and leave the rest to God.”

On the way back from Wellington we stopped again in Palmerston North. (The North refers to the island on which it sits, there being also a Palmerston South.)

For our classes, we have not set up the full altar, displaying only Swamiji and Master, to give context to what we present. The altar comes out for Sunday service and teaching meditation afterward, and for the Kriya we did.

Even though we were offering the usual classes in Palmerston North, we felt more devotion was appropriate. Classes were held at the Theosophical Society hall -- another marvelous old wooden structure, newly refurbished but still holding decades of truth-seeking vibes.

Right under their motto -- “The only religion is Truth” -- we set up the whole altar.

Dambara always sings a few songs at the beginning, middle, and end of each program, but here we divided each session almost in half, starting with a long period of songs, chanting, and meditation. After a brief intermission, class started.

It wouldn’t have worked in Wellington, but in Palmerston North it was perfect.

We also showed Finding Happiness, to rave reviews as always.

A first-time viewer, though, later said to us, “There must be difficulties at Ananda. How do you deal with them? You should have devoted more time in the movie to the downside of what you are proposing. There are pros and cons to everything.”

I quoted Devi from the movie: “Meditation changes everything.”

He wasn’t satisfied, but I couldn’t think of more to say, nor did I feel like arguing the point.

Later I thought of the right response.

“If you want to persuade,” he had said, “you have to present both sides. Everything has two sides.”

Yes, everything worldly has two sides. Waves on the ocean -- for every crest there is a corresponding trough.

There is no opposite, however, to the spiritual path. Every effort to realize God brings you closer to God. It is the end of duality.

To present life at Ananda in terms of the “pros and cons” is to miss the point.

The purpose of Finding Happiness is not to persuade, but to inspire. In this it succeeds beautifully.

His suggestions were well-meant even if they missed the point. The movie did touch his heart, and he wanted to make a good thing better.

I had an interesting discussion with a devotee about another path where obedience to that guru is the fundamental practice. Even when the disciples don’t understand what the guru is asking, or why, still they must obey. They can question up to a certain point, then they must surrender to his will.

Perhaps this benefits those disciples. It is not my place to judge.

All I can say is: Thank you, Master, for sending us Swamiji.

Swamiji taught us to build our faith on the bedrock of our own experience.

Even for subtle questions, like “Why did God create the universe?” Swamiji answered in a way we can all understand. “It is the nature of Bliss to want to share Itself,” he said. “When you find a restaurant you love, or a movie you enjoy, what is the first thing you do? You call a friend and tell him about it.”

Happiness expands when it is shared. From this everyday example we can extrapolate all the way to Satchidananda.

I remember a time years ago when the community was questioning something Swamiji had suggested. He said, “I bend over backwards to explain things to you all. Master never bothered. A few words, a look, that’s all he gave us. We had to work the rest out ourselves.”

Thank you, Master, for sending us Swamiji!

Swamiji often said he preferred an honest argument to a mindless yes. Cooperative obedience is the right practice for this age. Respect for wisdom with full engagement of intelligence and will.

If you start with a dogma that can’t be questioned, you can only think to a certain extent. If reason doesn’t support dogma, reason has to be sacrificed so dogma can survive.

The relationship between Ananda and SRF hasn’t been part of any public discussion, but privately it is an ongoing issue. Our hosts are former SRF members. They are clear in their decision, but some of their gurubhais have expressed grave concern about their involvement with Ananda. I would love to put this whole issue behind us, but I think we have a ways to go.

One more reason why personal contact is important: An SRF member came to our program then later said to Atmajyoti, “What I was told about Ananda is so different from what I experienced. I don’t know what to do.”

“Go with your heart,” Atmajyoti replied.

Sage advice. As Master said, “Only love can take my place.”

Much love in Master,
Asha for the Ananda New Zealand team

P.S. The ongoing photo album for the New Zealand tour can be found here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Palmerston North & Hutt Valley, New Zealand

Dear Everyone:

Six days ago we left our home in Hamilton, heading south. We are still getting used to the need to dress warmly the further south we go. At the southern tip of the north island especially the wind blows fiercely.

Yesterday was a typical spring day in New Zealand -- warm sunshine, cool wind, rain, hail, and a 5.1 earthquake! Fortunately, no damage was done. Everyone is skittish about earthquakes, after the devastation of Christchurch (South Island) a few years ago. So much was destroyed the city has yet to recover.

Our first stop was Palmerston North, where Kavita used to live, and where her parents still reside. Pramod and Urmilla were perfect hosts, opening their home, and feasting us on homemade Indian food and what Rachel deemed “the best masala chai ever!”

This visit was added to provide Kriya Initiation to 3 new initiates, and a first-time- with-Ananda renewal for 3 Kriyabans.

Kavita’s spiritual life started in Palmerston North with a meditation group there. When Kavita discovered Ananda, she naturally wanted to share this with her long-time devotee friends.

We arrived on Wednesday and gave a satsang in the very room where Kavita came to know Master, and the next night we gave Kriya there.

Years ago -- 1982 -- David and I traveled with Swamiji through Europe for six weeks. He was on a lecture tour; for us it was our honeymoon. (After Swamiji went back to America, we had a more traditional celebration: two weeks in the Greek isles.)

That was before Ananda had established itself in Europe. Swamiji did programs in many cities, each arranged by individual devotees or small groups. Some were old SRF connections; others had come afterwards.

About 5 times during that trip, Swamiji gave Kriya initiation for a handful of new initiates, usually in the living room of someone’s home.

Our first acquaintance with Mayadevi and Helmut -- long-time leaders now of Ananda Assisi -- was staying in her parents’ house in Frankfurt, bonding over the making of Kriya drink for the ceremony Swamiji gave there.

The initiation in Palmerston North was sweet deja-vu of that trip with Swamiji.

The fabulous traveling crew rose to the occasion, converted the small living room into a temple to our Masters. Already there were pictures and artifacts, but with permission, we used the pictures we had brought to make it unique for the initiation.

Even though we have all attended many Initiations, this was one of the most moving, because of the uniqueness of the setting and the profound gratitude of those being initiated, both the first-timers, and those renewing.

Because of the infrequent occurrence, and the expense of travel, it is unlikely that two of the new initiates could have participated in a Kriya ceremony if we had not come to their very doorstep.

Watching each disciple kneel before the Masters and place their offerings with such loving care --- every effort, every expense to bring ourselves to that moment counted as nothing compared to the inspiration filling that small room.

One of the new Kriyabans wrote:

“For your tireless service, for seeking out the separated and lost, for helping us achieve what we were always looking for, for extending hope of receiving Kriya in simplified circumstances in these fearful times...I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am honored to be among the first initiated here.”

The next morning, greatly uplifted in spirit from the ceremony the night before, and fortified with several cups of “the best masala chai ever,” we left for Hutt Valley, a city within commuting distance of the capital, Wellington.

Traveling from Hamilton to Hutt Valley over two days we experienced the amazing variety of this country. Fields in a shade of green that seems more astral than material. Sheep and baby lambs arranged with such pleasing harmony one imagines an Artistic Director places them in the fields each morning for the pleasure of those passing by.

Rolling hills give way to forests, and eventually to a barren highlands, with two snow-covered, volcanic peaks rising dramatically from the plains, at the edge of an immense lake. Then again into forests, velvet green fields, and, suddenly, we are looking are the roiling waves of a vast ocean.

Rain and wind gives way to glorious clouds, then sunshine, then clouds and rain again.

Also cheese-tasting (and buying) and “the best ice cream in New Zealand” at the not-to-be-missed tourist stop, with a wandering peacock there to greet us.

New Zealanders are very health conscious. Whole grain and gluten-free options abound. Eggs, produce, and dairy products are delicious. Inasmuch as good food is the “last legitimate pleasure of the yogi,” we are enjoying ourselves immensely.

Hutt Valley is the home of Kavita’s partners in the planning of this trip, Bryan and Linda Rose. Bryan is a long-time disciple of Master. Master’s devotees here have a national retreat every year and through those events Kavita and Bryan became friends. When she shared Ananda with him, he took to it enthusiastically.

He and Linda planned to be at SRW this year, but a family emergency prevented it. So, except for e-mail and a few Skype calls, this was our first meeting.

They have a lovely spacious home where, to our joy, we have all managed to find a room or cubbyhole to stay in. On a tour like this, everyone adds to the magnetism and even a day apart feels like a long time.

Bryan Rose is well-educated in Master’s teachings and in the almost 20 years of being a disciple has obtained many unpublished or out-of-print writings of Master or collections of teachings from other disciples. We’ve enjoyed a box full of Master’s magazines dating from 1925, a notebook of quotes from Brother Bhaktananda and also from Brother Turiyananda, among other treasures.

In advance of our arrival, we shipped Ananda Publications from India and Bryan has been avidly reading through Swamiji’s books and The Wisdom of Yogananda series.

We brought him a copy of Fight for Religious Freedom, by our attorney Jon Parsons and, as you can imagine, we’ve had some lively discussions as Bryan, Kavita, and us sort through the amazing SRF-Ananda karma.

After all these years I’ve come to a very simple way of explaining it. SRF is centralized. Ananda is de-centralized. For each organization, this is both an organizational and a spiritual principle.

Being so far away from the “headquarters” of both SRF and Ananda, it is more obvious than ever: So few on this planet strive to live in the light. What pleases God most of all is to love one another, for in God, all are equal. Whoever loves God is our brother and sister.

We had a full weekend of programs in Hutt Valley. The venue again was lovely, a room in the Dowse Museum of Art.

Bryan and Linda live right on the edge of town, and the Museum is within walking distance. Transporting books and all the other paraphernalia of Ananda-on-the-Road required that The Marshmellow (the name of our van...we’ve changed the spelling from “mallow” to “mellow” to express the attitude of those traveling within it) still had to be used, but most of us walked back and forth.

New Zealand is a major exporter of dairy products and other agricultural goods. If they could package and sell the prana in the air, however, it would be the richest nation in the world.

The turnout here was smaller -- about 15 for the free lecture and no more than 6 for any of the classes. Kavita has been active in Hamilton for some years, and she has built up a group. Here Bryan is just getting started with Ananda, so this is the beginning.

Having a whole weekend together, we shared lunch, and sometimes dinner, bringing our new friends to Bryan and Linda’s where we ferreted around in the kitchen and made meals together.

These informal interactions are as important -- perhaps more so -- than the formal classes. Ananda is a way of being in the world. It is spiritual family.

When we showed Finding Happiness here, there was hardly a dry eye in the room. Swamiji’s presence is so powerful. And the picture of what life can be like when you put God first is thrilling, both for those of us who have decades of experience in Ananda, and for those seeing it for the first time.

Although life in New Zealand is beautiful in so many ways -- national health care, among other things, removes many worries -- depression is a major problem. Kavita speculates this is because life is so comfortable, there is nothing to strive for and the “agonizing monotony” as Master’s calls it in Autobiography of a Yogi, leaves people groping for meaning.

Master’s teaching can be a solution.

Nature is vibrant, and much respected. The biggest ecological problem is imported predators -- rats and other rodents -- brought over on the boats with the Europeans. This was devastating to the indigenous bird population, and efforts are being made now to restore the balance and protect endangered species.

Bryan is deeply engaged in this and has taken Dambara into the high hills on an outing related to this effort.

Yesterday, Bryan took Dambara and me to a nearby park. In typical fashion, it was sunny for the drive there, but as soon we reached the parking area, dark clouds moved in, torrential rain fell, then hail.

A few minutes later, the storm abated, and we decided to take the walk we had planned. It was a rainforest after all, so getting wet should be part of the story. When you travel halfway around the world you want experiences you can’t get in your own neighborhood.

We crossed a river on a swinging bridge, wandered through thick forest down to the river’s edge. This area was used for Rivendell in the filming of The Lord of the Rings. You can imagine how magical it was.

Tonight we have a program at the local Theosophical Society. The subject is The Yugas. Should be interesting.

This weekend we will be in Wellington on Friday and Saturday, then Palmerston North for Sunday Service and a class in the afternoon.

For me, this journey is about attunement: To be in the moment, to feel what God and Gurus want, and as best I can to be their messenger.

Keep us in your prayers.

In divine friendship,
Asha for Ananda New Zealand

P.S. Turnout for the first Wellington talk was about 35 people -- a full house of dynamic and interesting people. Many plan to come to the classes on Friday and Saturday night. More about that next letter.

P.P.S. More photos of the trip so far are online here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hamilton, New Zealand

Dear Everyone:

We arrived on Wednesday, September 24. Traveling from the USA September 23 vaporized, but we will get back its equivalent with double-length November 4 when we return.

On Wednesday and Thursday we had informal gatherings and met a handful of core people.

Kavita, our host in Hamilton, has been teaching yoga, meditation, and related spiritual subjects for a few years, so we are coming into an established community of seekers.

On Friday, our formal program began -- six sessions from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.

First were subject classes: super-consciousness, intuition, karma and reincarnation. Then we showed the movie, Finding Happiness, had a Sunday service, which included initiating three new disciples into this path, and then in the afternoon a beginning meditation, first steps to Kriya class. Some had already learned from Kavita the first techniques, but it was also a chance to explain the essence of this path.

For the subject classes, we had pictures of Master and Swamiji, so people would know we represent a lineage, offering more than just our own ideas.

For Sunday -- service and intro to Kriya -- we had the full altar in place.

Attendance varied from 25-40 people for each program -- wonderful people. Serious truthseekers, open-minded, and open-hearted. They listened thoughtfully and laughed easily. All were fully and appreciatively engaged.

They loved Finding Happiness. No matter how much we try to explain Ananda, words are inadequate. And the movie has Swamiji. After the movie, all that we say makes more sense.

Very promising start for Ananda New Zealand.

That’s the summary. Now the travelogue.

It is a nonstop, 12-hour overnight flight from San Francisco to Auckland. You lose a day, and change hemispheres, but New Zealand is directly south of Hawaii, so the time difference is only a few hours.

The easy flight, plus excellent homeopathic remedy (Jet Lag Relief, from Homeostasis Labs -- accept no substitutes) meant no jet lag. Fabulous.

It was rainy and cold in the days before we arrived -- spring here is unpredictable. Sunshine arrived with us and has kept us company ever since. Breezy, a little cool, but perfect.

Kavita, her husband Aroon, and two teenage daughters, Veda and Devya, live in a marvelous old house right on the Waikato River. At one time the house was the post office for a nearby community. Later it was cut in half, moved, then reassembled in this location.

Aroon is developing lovely orchards and gardens on the open acres around the house. By generously rearranging their own living quarters, they accommodated all of us under one roof. From most of the bedrooms, and two of the showers, we have a view of the river.

Hamilton is in the middle of the north island. We are traveling from end to end, but will come and go from here.

On Wednesday we go North Palmerston, where we will have a Kriya Initiation (for one person), and meet a long-time devotee friend of Kavita’s.

Then on to the Wellington/Hutt Valley area for 10 days -- two big weekends and a smattering of classes and a little sightseeing in between.

Long time devotee friends -- Bryan and Linda Rose -- are hosting us, organizing the events, and spreading the news of our coming. We’ll see what Master has in store.

The traveling group is perfect. I have the laboring oar where the classes are concerned, but we are equal in carrying Master’s ray. Each is eloquent and enthusiastic in his or her unique way.

Dambara is presenting Swamiji’s music. Bryan McSweeney filming the classes with help from Rachel Ebgi who is also taking informal footage for an eventual video about spreading Master around the world.

The second day we were here, we were having an organizational meeting around the breakfast table. I had to announce that Jill (Barker) would not be continuing with us on this journey.

It was touching to see the consternation of the others at this announcement. We bonded deeply very fast.

Their dismay was so great, I was naughty and let the moment go longer than necessary.

Jill won’t be with us anymore,” I said finally, “but Atmajyoti will be.”

The evening before, the subject of a spiritual name for Jill had come up over the dinner table. I’m not entirely comfortable suggesting names for people but the essence of her name came in a flash of intuition, and it seemed right.

So, no more Jill -- Atmajyoti has taken her place.

The atman is the divine Self within. Jyoti is light, so Atmajyoti is the light of the divine Self.

Atmajyoti has taken on the book sales, the registration, keeping track of the money and making everything beautiful.

From Ananda Publications in India we got a large selection of books, which are all selling well, another indication of the serious interest here.

Dambara arrived a few days early, and met musician friends of Kavita who arranged an “insta-choir” with four excellent singers who learned and performed some of Swamiji’s songs throughout the weekend.

On Friday evening, the official launch of Ananda New Zealand, this local quartet came in singing a Maori song of welcome and blessing.

I’d never heard the melody or the vowel-filled language before, but it was deeply familiar and profoundly moving. With beautiful, heartfelt words, one of the singers then welcomed Master’s teachings and us as his representatives to the country of New Zealand.

A most auspicious beginning.

Much love from all here.


Friday, September 12, 2014

New Zealand-Bound

Dear Friends:

Today is September 12th: Swamiji's discipleship anniversary and an auspicious day to share our latest adventure with Master. In ten days, September 22, I leave for New Zealand.

When Swamiji was with Self-Realization Fellowship, he may have visited New Zealand, but not after. He went to Australia a few times when Ananda tried to start a community there, but that community never took hold. “It isn’t time yet,” Swamiji concluded.

Now, 15 years later, we are again going to the Southern Hemisphere to see what Master has in mind.

The traveling party is five.

From Ananda Village, Bryan McSweeney and Rachel Ebgi. They’ll run the video equipment, Bryan can share about the schools, Rachel teaches yoga, and they plan to create a video log of the journey.

Dambara is coming from Portland to chant and sing Swamiji’s music, be a Lightbearer, and help teach various levels of meditation.

From Palo Alto, in addition to me, there is Jill Barker, to share her love for God, her deep understanding of the teachings, and her gift of creating beauty everywhere.

We are a nicely varied group, with a 45-year age span. Everyone will do a lot of everything, showing the many facets of Ananda.

Some of you have asked, “Why New Zealand?” Here is as much as I know.

In June 2012, Swamiji asked me to become “Ananda’s global ambassador.” My address would remain Palo Alto, but my duties and attitude would shift from local to global.

In the two years since, I’ve traveled some in the U.S, but mostly in India.

I love India, and seeing the open-ended potential there, I asked Swamiji if, when he said world, he actually meant India.

“No,” he said, “I meant world.”

I then asked, “By world did you mean America?”

“I’m of two minds about America,” he said.

I understood perfectly. With its spirit of equality, freedom, and “We can do it!” America is ideally suited for Self-realization. This movement couldn’t have started anywhere else.

On the other hand, after you experience the devotion of India, and the heart-centered spirit of Italy, America can feel a little dry.

But devotees are the same everywhere no matter what passports we carry. The truth-seekers motto is “One Nation of Self-Realization.”

When Master left India for America in 1920, Sri Yukteswar said, “Forget you were born a Hindu, and don’t be an American. Take the best of them both. Be your true self, a child of God. Seek and incorporate into your being the best qualities of all your brothers, scattered over the earth in various races.”

“Go where there is energy,” Swamiji told me, meaning where there are truth-seekers receptive to Master’s ray.

A further consideration is to continue in the directions Swamiji set, for Ananda and for me personally.

In 1971, Swamiji described Ananda’s future as “First we’ll build communities on the West Coast of America, then the East Coast, then on to Europe, from there to Australia, and from Australia to India. India will be more receptive if we bring an international work, not merely an American one.”

Much of what he envisioned has manifested. Ananda flourishes in India and Europe. “The work in America is going beautifully,” Swamiji often said. There are many devotees on the East Coast, although no communities -- yet. Australia is still waiting for the right time.

Twice Swamiji thought to send David and me to the East Coast. He tried also to involve me in Ananda Los Angeles, but the needs of Palo Alto took precedence. This gives me some direction for my future in America.

When I was in India last winter, I began to ask, “Where next?” Australia seemed an obvious choice. They speak English (my only language) and it was part of Swamiji’s vision.

“Should Ananda come to Australia and New Zealand?” was the subject line for an e-mail I sent to some 400 people on our list living in those countries.

Seconds after it was sent, I got a response. “Yes!” coupled with an offer to arrange the tour -- in New Zealand.

Several dozen devotees, from both countries, expressed enthusiasm, but no one in Australia could take charge. I had thought to do it myself -- I’ve organized many tours -- but those days are past. Without the right person in Australia, it was impossible.

“Go where there is energy,” which turns out to be New Zealand.

After the tour was set -- September 24-November 4, six cities on the North Island, no junket to Australia -- Kavita Parshotam, my New Zealand friend, told me “the rest of the story.”

Kavita has been a disciple of Master for more than 20 years. She found her Guru through Self-Realization Fellowship, was part of a small SRF group, and attended several Convocations in Los Angeles.

Kavita loves Master’s teachings. It is the nature of joy to want to share itself. She began to teach yoga, meditation, the Bhagavad-Gita, and other spiritual subjects.

In SRF only monastics are allowed to teach and Kavita has a family. She did her best to work within their guidelines.

She knew Master had a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, but it has never been published. She googled Yogananda + Patanjali. In a matter of minutes, she ran through several videos on the subject; none held her attention. Then my face appeared.

I have been giving classes on Demystifying Patanjali for over a year. Poised to move on after the usual minute, instead Kavita watched the whole class and several more.

This opened the door to Ananda. She drank deeply from the online resources, and made plans to come to California in June for Meditation Teacher Training. Ananda provides many opportunities to serve. It is the nature of joy (Ananda) to share itself.

In January -- when I was in India asking, “Where should I go next?” -- Kavita grew impatient, waiting for June to come.

She gave Master a prayer-demand: “Bring Ananda to New Zealand.” Then, more specifically, “Bring Asha to New Zealand.”

When the pop-up window on her computer said, “Message from Asha: Should Ananda Come to Australia and New Zealand?” Kavita didn’t even read the e-mail. “Yes!” she typed, and hit send.

That we will have a delightful adventure is guaranteed. Traveling with devotees in a gorgeous country -- what is there not to love?

Will this be the beginning of Ananda New Zealand, leading perhaps to Ananda Australia as Swamiji envisioned decades ago? That is in the hands of God and Gurus.

But perhaps we can influence the decision.

Please pray for the success of our journey, that we may “Awaken Thy Love in all hearts.”

The itinerary is posted at

Wherever we are in the world, we are one in Master’s spirit. Joy. Joy. Joy.

In divine friendship,
Nayaswami Asha

P.S. We’ll keep you informed as the trip unfolds.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Seeing the Divine Everywhere

Dear Friends,

When I first lived at Ananda Village, many years ago, it was very easy to be detached from material things, because we had none. For those of you who’ve been to our Pune community in India, it looked a bit like that, but worse, because at least they have a few nice buildings, and we had hardly any.

We had a few domes, and we had a little temple, but for many years I lived in a tiny trailer. If I stretched out my arms I couldn’t actually touch both walls, but somebody slightly larger than me could have. I would walk maybe three or four steps up the middle of the trailer to sleep, meditate, do a little cooking, and sit and eat my meal. I never had dinner parties, but I was perfectly happy. I had everything I needed, and it comforted me not to have anything, because it meant that I didn’t have to ask myself questions about attachment. I found that being very poor is easy.

When we had nothing, the question of material desires never arose. Why go there? You can’t buy anything, so you don’t need anything. And a certain inner reality began to grow in me during those cave-dwelling years – that as long as I didn’t have material things, it meant I was spiritual.

In other words, there was no question of my having actually refined my feelings – I was living a fantasy: “I can easily push my desires aside and they’ll be transcended.”

Of course, they weren’t transcended; they were in abeyance, waiting to fall on my head.

And then, by a series of events, I married David, and we suddenly needed a place to live. The area around Swami Kriyananda’s house was being redeveloped, and there was a tiny cabin on it, very funky, and Swamiji invited us to come and live next door to him – which, of course, was something highly desirable.

He asked if we could live in this little cabin. So the two of us walked into that cabin, and it immediately didn’t feel like a wholesome place for us to live. It’s odd, because normally I’d have said yes, but it didn’t feel right.

So Swami said, “Well, build a house there.”

There was a dual purpose to this. We didn’t have any money, so Swami said, “Why don’t you travel and lecture, Asha, then you can earn the money.”

I never, ever would have done that, but it was his way of picking me up by the seat of the pants and throwing me out into the world. So I started that work of traveling and lecturing, and it led to where we are today.

Then we had to build our little house. And my husband is a very energetic man. He has a very big aura. And he has taught me a lot, because he doesn’t break the world up into pieces. He doesn’t see material things, non-material, spiritual, non-spiritual. He just emits energy. And that’s what I learned from him; that it’s all energy, and if you live in a nice house, fine, and if you live in another house, fine – it doesn’t make any difference to him, because it’s all just energy.

So Swamiji asked him to build a house. And David has a very refined aesthetic sense, and of course he started designing the Taj Mahal. And finally I had to say, “Honey, I don’t know what incarnation you think we’re in, but it’s not that one, I promise you.”

Sometimes I joke with him, that if we’d done all this work for ourselves instead of for God, we’d be very wealthy by now – but not this time.

We whittled the house plans down to the right size, and now it’s the guest house at Crystal Hermitage. It’s a charming little house. But I had this enormous emotional attachment, of all things, to being impoverished.

Most people have an attachment to owning things, but my attachment was to being poor. I had made this little dream narrative that said “As long as she’s poor, she’s spiritual.” As long as people can come to my trailer and say, “How can you live in this tiny little dump?” I can say, “See how spiritual I am.” This was not an inspiration from God. It was an emotion that I had built around my life. A peculiar one, but just as binding as if I had been attached.

Meanwhile, David felt, “Swamiji wants us to build this house, and as devotees it behooves us to reflect the beauty of God. There’s nothing particularly spiritual about having nothing. It can be a sign of not putting out enough energy.”

I came up with a sort of secondary emotional plan, which is that we would build an ugly house and it would be perfectly clear that I couldn’t possibly have been attached to building this house because look at how badly it’s done.

David put up with that quietly for a while, then one day he said, “If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way.”

That was when I began to realize, you know, “What’s this really all about?” I was pretending it was a divine feeling because it was all about being spiritual, but I had moved away from genuine intuition and from Swamiji’s guidance, and even away from my own common sense, because my emotions had constructed this self-enclosed reality and I wasn’t able to see the whole picture.

So I eventually just took it all down and erased it. I didn’t work on the house much, because I wasn’t that interested. But I chose the wallpaper and a few little things, and I began to discover that it was fun.

“Well, Divine Mother, here we are in the wallpaper store, a place I never expected to go ever, and there’s all this wallpaper.” And what kind of wallpaper reminds me of my own inner feelings of happiness? What represents to me what I want to be all the time? Because when you’re looking at beautiful things, or you’re looking at art, these are feelings of the heart.

When we come at them with too much reason – “That’s cheaper” – or “We don’t want that because our neighbors have it” – we cut ourselves off from our core.

This is what David was teaching me. “What is life asking of us right now? How can we make whatever we’re doing, whether it’s building a house, making lunch, raising a child, or teaching school – how can we make it a true emanation of the inner feeling of the Divine that is in us all the time?”

Then every little leaf of our life begins to vibrate with that reality, and we are living in our truest feeling nature, in divine awareness, but we aren’t caught up in the self-generated emotions that can so easily take us away from God.

In Joy,

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How Can We Forgive?

I read a touching article about a woman whose daughter was murdered.

After the murderer was sentenced to prison for life, the mother continued to boil with anger. In time, she realized that her own anger was killing her. And thus the man who had taken her child’s life was taking hers as well.

In hopes of finding healing, she traveled to the prison and met with the murderer. At first, she found it difficult to be in the same room. But, desperate for healing, she persevered.

She gradually began to see the man not as a monster, but as a fellow human being who had suffered. The story ended with them growing closer in mutual understanding, and with the woman becoming like a second mother to him.

The woman never condoned what the man had done. But she found that she could accept it – not as good or beautiful, but as a reality that simply had to be faced.

The murderer also experienced an expansion of consciousness. Before his meetings with the mother, he had no concept of the suffering he had caused. By getting to know the grieving mother, he came to understand that negative actions can have terrible results far beyond the moment of the act.

Accepting responsibility for his actions created an opening for the woman to open her heart to him in compassion. She offered him an example of the all-forgiving love of God. And she experienced the blessing of that love which constantly forgives.

In this life, all that we can ever experience is our own consciousness. If we poison our consciousness with anger, grief, bitterness, and resentment, our life becomes miserable.

Even if our circumstances give us every logical reason to be miserable, the real issue is: Who suffers? Divine forgiveness is an absolute requirement for our own happiness.

There are no shortcuts to forgiveness. But perfect self-honesty will give us, in time, the humility to purge our hearts of blaming others for our suffering. No matter what the facts are, the truth is that we are responsible for our own consciousness.

A friend told me about the trouble she was having with an elderly relative. This old, bitter person was doing everything he could to suck the joy out of her life.

At one point, I interrupted. “You just sat there and let him talk to you like that?”

“Yes, I did.”

“I would have walked out and never come back,” I said. “It is not good for him to speak like that. And it is an offense against the God within you to let yourself be treated that way.”

Let me add that if my friend had been unaffected, I would have answered differently. If she could be detached and able to give her love joyfully to this unhappy old man, it might have been a spiritual service worth offering. But she was deeply affected, and all the joy was being sucked out of her.

To give people the impression that you live solely to be abused by them, and that whatever they do to you is fine, and that their actions will have no consequences for them, is not love or forgiveness. Almost always, it is simply guilt or fear.

It’s not always easy to analyze our own motives. But it has to be done. Humility isn’t self-abasement. It is courageous self-honesty – seeing things exactly as they are, without shame or excuses.

Years ago, Swami Kriyananda received a letter from a woman who said she was leaving her husband after seven years of marriage.

“Whenever I try to meditate,” she wrote, “he turns the television on as loud as possible. When I speak of spiritual things, he makes fun of me.”

Privately, Swamiji said to me, “She put up with that for seven years?! I wouldn’t have taken it for fifteen minutes!”

I once received a letter from a woman whose partner of fifteen years had repeatedly betrayed her. He excused his actions by saying it was the result of the inner pain of a mental disorder. He announced he had been healed, and that he wanted to continue the relationship.

The woman asked me two questions: “Can people really change?” And, “When we commit to love and forgive everything, does it include inconstancy?”

Can a person change? Of course, anyone can change. We are children of God, capable of infinite improvement. But true healing requires that we take responsibility for our actions. And, so far as possible, we must make amends. Even if it’s very difficult to make amends, we must try; otherwise, there is a gap in our healing.

This woman’s partner attributed his betrayals to his mental disorder. But to “explain it away” isn’t the same as taking responsibility.

There was man who lived at Ananda Village who subsequently left and did his best to harm the community and many of his former friends by aggressively spreading false and malicious rumors. His lies caused pain for many people.

Years later, I happened to run into him. He behaved with great friendliness and began talking about the importance of forgiveness and healing. His point was that I, as a member of Ananda, should be expansive in my consciousness and forgive him for the trouble he had caused.

I said, “Have you changed? Do you repudiate the attitudes and actions of the past? Will you apologize to all those you hurt? Will you take back your lies?”

His answer was carefully crafted. “I’m sorry that some of you suffered.”

I said, “That’s no answer! Are you sorry for the part you played in causing that suffering?”

To that he made no reply, which told me all I needed to know. He wasn’t willing to admit that he had acted improperly. Instead he was trying to shame me into believing that I would be acting improperly if I didn’t welcome him back with open arms!

I bear him no ill will. But, as I explained to him in no uncertain terms, it would be irresponsible of me to welcome him back into my life and into the life of Ananda if he showed no actual proof that he had changed. He was trying to take advantage of Ananda’s well-known generosity of heart.

The question isn’t, “Can a person change?” It is, “Has he changed?” And, if so, “What is the proof?” Pleasant-sounding statements alone are not enough.

Returning to the subject of the straying husband who attributed his inconstancy to his emotional illness: Even though an apology isn’t the same as reform, it’s a first step toward taking responsibility for one’s behavior.

In the case of the person who had tried to harm Ananda, there was no apology. There was no acceptance that he had done anything wrong.

Did the straying husband apologize for his behavior? If so, and if he was genuinely trying to become a better person, then there was no lowering of standards to prevent the partner from forgiving him and welcoming him back into her life. But before welcoming him back, she would need to deeply consider his potential for falling back into the same delusion.

Certainly, perfect love can forgive all. But to consider yourself a victim, and to act like a doormat, is to doom yourself to suffering and disappointment.

We all make mistakes. God understands us completely and forgives our weaknesses endlessly. But it is our duty to do our best to change.

In joy,

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How Should We Relate to Spiritual Authority?

I’ve always considered Swami Kriyananda to be Paramhansa Yogananda’s chosen messenger.

Master told Swamiji that he would not be merely a teacher, but that he would have spiritual responsibility for people. And an essential part of our relationship with him involves understanding how to relate to his spiritual authority.

I like to think of the spiritual realm as a kingdom, where the king appoints a prince to be in charge of a certain province. The fact that the prince isn’t the king doesn’t give him any less authority to rule in the king’s name. Nor are his subjects more in tune with the king when they ignore the prince.

In the subset of Yogananda’s spiritual family that is Ananda, Swami is the one whom Yogananda gave the responsibility of speaking for him. If we relate to Swami with that kind of respect, it facilitates the flow of dynamic spiritual energy between us. But if we refuse to hear Swami as Yogananda’s representative, thinking “I don’t know who you are, I only know I love Yogananda,” the system breaks down, and our spiritual progress is weakened.

In a Catholic monastery, each monk’s superior becomes the voice of Christ for him. Of course, the Church pushed the concept too far, when it insisted that the superior can demand blind obedience.

Many people don’t understand how to relate to spiritual authority. Often, they think they have to relate to the teacher mindlessly, like the monks in a Catholic monastery, and that they can’t think and evaluate for themselves.

It’s very important to remember that God can reach you more effectively if you’re sincere about wanting to be reached. If you act from faith and devotion, from common sense and discrimination, then the people whom God has given spiritual authority in your life will be empowered to help you, through your faith and humility.

Any relationship works better if you’re respectful, and if you’re attentive and trying to tune in. This is especially true in the relationship of the teacher and student, where we’re trying to let ourselves be guided.

Sister Gyanamata, who gave us the most extraordinary example of a disciple, shared many wonderful instructions from her life with Paramhansa Yogananda. She said, “You can say anything you want to the guru, as long as you speak with detachment and respect.”

I’ve given Gyanamata’s words a lot of thought. And of course they’re true about our relationship with the guru, but they’re also true in our relationships with the other people in our lives.

You can say pretty much anything you want to anyone, as long as you speak with detachment and respect. It’s when you’re not detached and respectful that things start to go awry. As long as you’re impersonal, bringing forth your ideas with sincerity, and being respectful of the person you’re talking to, not sneering and putting him down, that communication can flow.

Many years ago, Swamiji told me, “You don’t express what you really feel, but you’re not fooling me.”

I had been working hard on holding the right attitude – too hard, in fact, so hard that I wasn’t allowing myself to have my own feelings and think my own thoughts.

Swami has always said that he much prefers an honest argument over a mindless “yes.” A mindless yes is not a yes; it’s a firecracker waiting to go off. An honest argument is the process of coming to the truth you’re looking for.

Years ago, just after Swami published one of his books, a woman kept calling me with incredibly convoluted, niggling objections to what he’d said in the book, paragraph by paragraph.

She was a bright woman, and I couldn’t understand her objections. Finally, I got so tired of talking to her that I said, “What are you doing?”

She said, “If Swami isn’t wrong, then I have to listen to him.”

I said, “Oh, I get it. Okay, we’re talking about fear. We can have a real conversation about fear.”

She had been exhausting us with her attempts to discredit him, so that she wouldn’t have to face the real issue, which was that he might be right and she’d have to accept his spiritual authority.

I’ve always treated Swami as if he were Master, because I consider him to be Master’s representative, and he’s always spoken to me in that way. I’ve always felt that what he said to me carried that level of authority. He’s been, and continues to be, an extraordinary channel of Master’s for us all. But God can only inspire us to the extent that we’re receptive. If you’re praying, and you sincerely want to hear the answer to your prayer, then the truth can come into your mind.

I’ve had the experience of people asking me for advice, and I found I couldn’t think of anything to say. And I realized the person didn’t actually want me to say anything, because they were afraid of what I might say, and as a result I drew a blank.

Several times, I asked Swami for advice in such a way that we both knew I wasn’t going to be able to follow whatever advice he gave me. At those times his answer was always, “I have nothing to say.”

People say to me, “I like coming to church, and I like what you say, but I don’t connect with Kriyananda.” And I tell them, “You’re connected with nothing but Kriyananda. You just don’t know it yet. You have called it as you see it, but you don’t yet understand the source of the power.

“Everything that you experience through Ananda is created by Swami Kriyananda. Everything that I’m saying comes from Swami. Rarely do I give you an idea of my own. So if you like any word that I say, you really like Kriyananda without realizing it. I encourage you to go beyond me to the source, to Swami and through him to Yogananda, because you might as well climb the highest mountain.”

Swami Kriyananda wasn’t fully liberated until the end of his life, but he was highly attuned with Yogananda. He was, and continues to be, a pure channel for Yogananda’s energy.

In Master’s Joy,

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ask Asha: How Can I Have God All the Time?


How can I have God all the time?


Many of the techniques we practice on the spiritual path are so simple that we can all too easily fail to see how powerful they are.

We imagine that if something is complex and hard to understand, it must be powerful. If there are lots of things to remember, and if you have to get the syllables just right, then it must be important and powerful. Yet the techniques of this path are simple and powerful.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Practicing the presence of God is simple, for example, yet it’s a challenge.

You find that the more you practice, the more the boundaries of your ego dissolve, and the more you discover that you are part of a greater reality. And then your intuition develops, so that you find that you’re aware of that higher reality in everything.

Several years ago, Swami Kriyananda challenged us to keep our minds on God for just five minutes a day.

I was very embarrassed, because he was asking us to think of God without letting our minds wander: “I’m hungry,” “I want to get that blue dress,” “Oh, there’s a spot on my pants,” “What am I going to do tomorrow?”

We all know how it goes. You’re sitting there trying to meditate, repeating the mantra, and all of a sudden you aren’t. And you’re not sure exactly when you stopped doing the mantra.

That’s why we say we “practice,” because we have to practice bringing our minds back over and over whenever they wander away.

Yogananda said that if you take care of the minutes, the incarnations will take care of themselves. The problem is, we think we have to look past the minutes and take care of many important things. But if your consciousness is uplifted and centered here and now, you find that your life flows beautifully.

One of the reasons we chant is that singing the words is a wonderful way to keep our hearts engaged and our mind focused. When you repeat the words with feeling, the mind wants to practice the presence, because it sees how enjoyable it is.

When Brother Bhaktananda was a young disciple, he spent eight years constantly repeating a simple phrase: “I love you, Guru.” One day Yogananda saw him and said, “I love you, too.”

Swamiji’s book Affirmations for Self Healing gives us many wonderful phrases we can repeat to keep our minds in the present, on God.

I possess the creative power of spirit, the divine.

The infinite intelligence will guide me and solve every problem.

The sunshine of divine prosperity has just burst through my dark clouds of limitation.

I go forth in perfect faith in the power of omnipresent good to bring me what I need, at the time I need it.

When life’s laundry list tries to fill up your mind, you can start saying your affirmation and everything changes.

Frank Laubach was a protestant missionary in the Philippines. Rev. Laubach began to suspect there might be something more to religion than anyone had told him. He began to try to be constantly in the company of Jesus.

In his book Letters of a Modern Mystic, Laubach describes all the things he did to be aware of the presence of Jesus, and how difficult this simple idea was to practice – and how magnificently it turned out for him.

There’s a book called The Way of a Pilgrim by a Russian peasant who became a saint by practicing the presence of God. He had read in the Bible that we are supposed to “pray unceasingly.” And in his simple religious fervor, he set out to discover what it meant. He took as his mantra the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

At first he repeated it a little each day, then more and more, until he was saying it unceasingly. And then he began to discover that his breath, his heartbeat, and everything in the universe was the same. His prayer became all of creation, and he became nothing but that prayer.

These stories open startling possibilities. You realize that if we pick up these simple tools, how much can happen.

We think we have to do something big and important. We have to move somewhere and change our job so we can make more money and go on more retreats. But none of those things have to happen. You can find God if you step out the door of your mundane habits and start saying your chosen prayer.

It’s a thrilling process. Once you recognize the power of it, then you can have the presence of God anywhere. If you’re in a prison cell you can be with God. If you’re ill and can’t sit to meditate, you can do your practice and have God. If everybody in your family is screaming and won’t give you a moment’s rest, you can do it. Silently practicing the presence of God is the devotee’s secret weapon in the battlefield of life.

In Joy,

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ask Asha: Divine Mother


I’m used to thinking of God as the Heavenly Father. The idea of Divine Mother is very new to me. What’s the Divine Mother all about?


In the summer of 1970, I visited a friend who lived on the small property that was Ananda’s only land at the time. Later, it became the Seclusion Retreat. But at the time, it was all there was of Ananda, just 12 acres of remote land with hardly anything on it but trees, bushes, and a few primitive structures.

We were all very young, and everybody was just scratching out a living on the land.

Binay was a young monk who lived there at the time and still lives at Ananda Village. But back in those very early days, he started a jewelry business in the back of a delivery truck that the owner had abandoned there.

Binay would cut little pieces of wood and put rosin on them, then put dried wildflowers in the rosin. It was a very nice product. Every so often, you can still see Ananda folks carrying them as key chains or wearing them as necklaces.

Then someone got the bright idea of cleaning up the property, and so they attached a tractor to Binay’s jewelry shop and hauled it away to the dump.

On the afternoon I arrived, I wandered around and eventually found my friend talking with Binay in the office dome.

Binay was saying, “Well, I really thought that Mother wanted me to start that jewelry business, but I guess She didn’t, because she hauled the truck away.”

As I sat there listening, I thought, “He’s got a really strange mother! First she tells him to do a jewelry business, and then she takes his shop away.”

I thought, “And he’s a pretty old fellow to be letting his mother run his life.”

The whole thing was way, way too weird for me, even though I’d studied eastern philosophy for quite a few years. And when I found out that he meant the Divine Mother, it didn’t make it any easier. In fact, it made it worse, because I had no mental cabinet where I could fit that idea.

The first job I had at Ananda was in the kitchen. The woman in charge desperately needed help, and so someone asked me to go work there.

I told her I couldn’t cook worth beans, but she said, “That’s okay, for lunch you just need to make scalloped potatoes.”

I said, “How do you make scalloped potatoes?” And she raised her eyes to the ceiling and said, “Oh, Mother, why do you always send me people like this?”

So again I was thinking, “What’s wrong with these people?” But fortunately, I liked Ananda enough to stay.

This woman consistently turned me off to the concept of Divine Mother. She was extravagant in her expression, and she was always blaming Divine Mother for everything that happened, always in an extremely dramatic way. And I just wanted nothing to do with it.

A year or two later, somebody was talking to me and I said, “Oh well, just trust Divine Mother, and it’ll be all right.”

I heard myself say the words, and I thought, “Where did that come from?” And I realized that they were only words to describe something that had become very big and real for me.

There are people who have an image of the Heavenly Father as looking like Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – a God in human form, living in a house with Divine Mother, and they have a little family and they cook and lead a normal life like you and I. But that’s not what we’re talking about when we refer to God in these familiar forms as mother and father.

“Mother” and “Father” are, in fact, only words. What we’re saying is that there is a force in the universe that you can experience inside yourself, and this force feels like someone who always loves you, whom you can trust completely, who accepts you completely for who you are, and who is always on your side.

Jesus called this force “the Comforter.” I love that word. In the Bible, Christ says, “I am leaving you, but I will send the Comforter.”

Esoterically, Jesus was talking about the AUM vibration. AUM is an actual sound that we can hear in meditation. It is, in fact, the force that is our own deepest nature. It’s the Comforter – which we know because when we experience this vibrational force, we experience the power and presence of God – not way out there somewhere waiting for us to get organized so that He can bless us, but right inside of us, exactly like a mother.

Think of what it is to be a little child, and to be able to rush up to the mother and experience her complete acceptance and love. A two-year old can be playing happily, and all of a sudden they see something that is way too much for their little minds, and so they press against the mother’s body. They’re gripping her legs and asking to be lifted onto her lap. And the mother picks the child up and holds it against her bosom.

This image, which seems so intimate and loving and familiar, is in fact very small compared to the love that we feel when we receive this inner vibration.

Searching for a word to describe what that inner vibration is like, we arrive at the image of a mother, because that vibration is saturated with unconditional love.

It was hard for me to accept the idea of Divine Mother, because it wasn’t intellectual. I had studied philosophy and I’d read the Gita and the Upanishads, and I had a grand picture of the cosmos all worked out in my mind.

And then to say, “Oh, Divine Mother…” – I simply couldn’t be that childlike! It was too unsophisticated. And it wasn’t until I had lived the teachings for a time that I began to feel, without really thinking about it, the presence of the Divine Mother. And then the words came out of my mouth naturally. Because there weren’t any other adequate words to describe that presence.

Jesus spoke of the Father, so that people could feel closer to God. And he promised that their Father would never judge them harshly or punish them, because He was a spirit of Love, and not only of impersonal Law.

Now, Yogananda has come to us with a new dispensation from God, and he speaks of God as the Mother.

Yogananda told people, “Pray to God as Mother, because the Mother is closer than the Father.”

The image he urged us to hold in our heart is that there need no longer be any separation between us and the consummately loving expression of God as the Mother. Yogananda came to tell us that God is much closer than mankind has ever dreamed.

You find that your experience broadens over the years. In 1970, I would never have thought that I would take Divine Mother as my own. I was far too small and mentally contracted. But as I began to open my heart, what do you know? I found that I could experience a reality that included Divine Mother.

So, even if you can’t accept the Mother for now, don’t reject it. Just say, “I won’t put on that particular garment yet. I’ll put it in the back of the closet, and for now I’ll wear this one, because it’s comfortable.”

Yogananda said that if we would do only ten percent of the things he said, we would find our freedom in God. But everyone needs a different ten percent, and that’s why he gave us so much.

The point is, you can only trust your experience. So go forward step by step, and don’t limit yourself because something seems strange at first. After a time, it won’t seem strange at all.

God bless you,

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Should We Be Moderate? When Should We Be Extreme?

Dear Friends,

A question I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves is how we can practice moderation, as the masters recommend, when they also urge us not be moderate in our devotion and our selflessness.

The brief answer that Paramhansa Yogananda gave is that we should have common sense.

St. Teresa of Avila established many convents in her brief life. Either eleven or twenty-four nuns would be set up in a cloister where they would live in perpetual seclusion. Once they entered the convent, the door would close, and they would remain there the rest of their lives. Teresa stressed that great care must be taken in selecting the nuns, because otherwise the whole convent would fall apart.

She said, “Above all, look for common sense.” She told those who had the duty of choosing nuns that everything else, including devotion, can be acquired, but common sense is much more difficult.

Moderation is just another way of saying, “Use your common sense.”

We need to keep our eye on the goal. And if the goal is self-transformation – well, you know what a project that is! In fact, it’s a long process. You don’t want to live in a way that puts you on a perpetual cycle of exerting too much effort, then collapsing, then feeling terribly guilty, then going to extremes again so you can’t maintain it and you fall back. All you’re doing is generating lots of excitement, but you aren’t making progress. It’s in this sense that the masters urge us to be moderate, because moderation is sustainable.

We’re looking for a life that is sustainable over the very long haul. As Swamiji said, the spiritual path is not a sprint. It’s a long-distance race. You can’t use up all your energy at the beginning, or you won’t be able to finish. Moderation means thinking of the long flow of what you’re trying to accomplish.

At the same time, the transformation required to attain Self-realization is anything but moderate. It’s not that we need to be a teeny bit nicer than we are now. That’s not what’s being asked. We’re urged to aspire to total self-forgetfulness, total release from the identification of our soul with the body. So we have to be extremely vigilant and attentive to the inroads of false ideas, and very determined to weed them out of our lives. But we have to weed them in a way that works. We have to do it carefully and patiently, step by step.

Swamiji said, “Don’t resist what life asks of you.” Our natural tendency is to pull back from what we think we don’t want, in the hope that if we make ourselves smaller it won’t find us. But whatever comes to us, comes because it’s our karma. It’s what’s demanded for our growth.

A friend of ours was living in an ashram, and she was assigned a job that she simply couldn’t do. She went to her meditation room and prayed, “Lord, if You want this job done well, get somebody else. If You want it done badly, leave me here.”

She figured that if He didn’t replace her, He must want it done badly, but it wasn’t her problem. She proceeded to do the best she could.

Before you begin a project, large or small, ask God to guide you. I find that when anxieties threaten to overwhelm me, I can always find the strength and guidance I need by repeating the affirmation, “I know that God’s power is limitless, and I know that I am made in his image.” Then what happens? I find that in a very short period, I feel more confident and much less anxious.

I’ve used this affirmation a lot, because there’s no part of me that resists that thought. “I know that God’s power is limitless, and I know that I am made in his image.”

I find it very powerful to say before I go to sleep. Fall asleep with a positive affirmation. Then as soon as you wake up, before anxieties try to enter your mind, say it again. Pick an affirmation, and chop the weeds of your anxiety with it every day until you’ve overpowered them. Because, you see, all of your fears and anxieties exist in your head. There’s no reality to them. Change your thoughts, change your consciousness, and you’ll change everything.

In Joy,

For more inspiring articles, visit “Heart to Heart with Asha.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pune, Bangalore, and Thiruvannamalai

Dear Friends:

My last letter ended when I had to dash off for the first of three classes of a weekend retreat at the Pune Community: Finding Happiness. Aptly titled to ride on the wave of the movie, which we had recently screened in nearby Mumbai, as well as a number of other Indian cities.

All those screenings, by the way, have gone splendidly, with stellar reviews from a wide variety of people -- business, filmmaking, education, social work, politics, law. Everyone seems to like the movie.

Theater release has been arranged for mid-April in 12 cities.

As you know, Elisabeth Rohm is enjoying a great boon in her career because of her part in the award-winning movie American Hustle. Many opportunities are coming to her and as a result it is not good timing for her to come to India for a “premier,” which was an option Shivani had been exploring.

In India, a premier is primarily a media event, with lots of opportunities for interviews and publicity. Since the movie star in our film is unable to come to India, we’ve hit upon a spectacular life-imitates-art solution, and are bringing two Indian journalists to America to visit Ananda Village, to recreate -- to a certain extent -- the plot of the movie itself. Elisabeth wasn’t able to come all the way to India, but is able to take the weekend at the Village. The resulting publicity for the movie opening in India, and perhaps even in the U.S., we hope will be notable.

The journalists will also be passing through Palo Alto (for about 24 hours) to get an impression of an urban center as well. Great fun.

The weekend at the Pune community went extremely well. We had about 30 visitors, including quite a few from Mumbai, including our Public Relations agent and two representatives of the media, all working to line up publicity to break in early April in time for the theater opening. As you can imagine, a great deal of energy is going into that event, and it looks extremely promising. The movie will play in theaters for at least a week, more if attendance warrants it.

Our Pune community is still “coming up” as they say in India, but even with some of the buildings still under construction, and the construction barely begun for the temple, there is a profound and beautiful spiritual atmosphere that all our visitors felt immediately. Especially when you contrast that rural setting with the hectic life in the cities where most of the visitors come from!

There were about the same number of residents and long-term guests (who have become members of the family) as there were weekend visitors. The spirit of Ananda shines through the eyes and hearts of Master’s children and touches all who come into that magic aura.

The temple we are using until the final one is constructed has net walls, a tin roof, and a strong tree branch holding up the center point of the ceiling. In these simple surroundings, the altar shines as always, with big pictures of the masters, and beautiful garlands. It is heaven on earth.

The Pune community at its present stage of development is so like the early years of Ananda Village it is a special joy for me to stay there.

I had been a little concerned about coming to the place where I last saw Swamiji in the body. When I went to Assisi after his passing, I was relatively calm until I went to his house. As some of you may remember, I wrote at the time that his house is where I always saw Swamiji in Assisi and I think some part of me expected to see him there. When I finally did go and found only a shrine in his bedroom, marking the place where he breathed his last, it was the moment when my emotions overtook my philosophical calm and for a time nothing could stop my tears.

I saw Swamiji as he was driving out of the Pune community last March (I believe it was the 11th) and my last personal interaction was taking leave of him in the living room of his house. He always sat in one particular chair and I can see him smiling his good-bye as I walked out the door, not knowing what was soon to come.

So it was with some small trepidation that I returned to this community.

Fortunately, my concern was unfounded. His presence is so strong there was no sense of loss.

Swamiji gave the house to Narayani and Shurjo. His dining table is in one corner of the large living room, and she keeps his place set. Most days he would have coffee after lunch in one of a brightly colored set of espresso cups that he particularly liked. Narayani says each day he would select from the several choices the color he wanted to drink from. Now she has one of those cups at his place and every day or two tunes into what color he would prefer.

In the chair where he always sat, some of his things are laid out. Devotees coming to visit Pune can come to the living room, sit at the dining table, meditate and feel his presence. Often on his chair one finds flowers or cards placed there by visitors.

Off the living room, is the bedroom, and after the bedroom, a small office. That room has an outside entrance, which opens onto a patio where Swamiji usually had tea. Compared to the other rooms, the office is rather small. Just a desk, chair, and armchair where Swamiji could sit and read over what he had just written.

I felt Swamiji’s spirit everywhere in the house, but most particularly in that office. In fact, it was so strong it startled me every time I came in or out. So much brilliant, divinely inspired creative work happened there. The vibrations remain.

Whenever I was with Swamiji, his presence would entirely dominate my consciousness. Those of you who live in Palo Alto may remember my asking all of you to bear with me during his visits because I would be unable to respond even to the simplest requests. It wasn’t just a matter of looking after him and his staff. I found myself unable to put my mind on anything else. I was always grateful for your understanding and support.

When we would visit Swamiji in other communities it was the same. I had no responsibilities for his care, but still my thoughts were absorbed in him. Even if I had hours free every day, it was difficult to give my energy to anything or anyone else.

I remember when we flew to Rome immediately after Swamiji’s passing. People were coming from America on many different flights and converging on that city over a period of 3-4 hours.

Our custom when going to Assisi was to leave the airport as quickly as possible to reach Swamiji with a minimum of delay. It was poignant last April to realize there was no need to rush. As I wrote at the time, we sat for several hours at a coffee shop in the airport as flights landed and our table expanded to include the new arrivals.

In Pune community this time, I suddenly found myself free to relate to the people there. I ended up giving quite a few satsangs. The weekend, of course, several programs for the community, two at our Pune city center, and two workshops at a company in town where one of our devotees works.

When I wasn’t sharing with a group, I was spending time with individuals. All my time, in fact, was with people. By the end of the 10 days we spent there, I was so much a part of the community it was hard to leave. Such is the power of our divine connection with one another.

From the Pune community we flew to Bangalore. Shivani’s husband Arjuna has been in India for the last month, bringing a pilgrimage group from Europe and then staying on to spend time with Shivani.

The four of us -- Shivani, Arjuna, Asha, and Bryan -- shared a 3-bedroom apartment a guest unit in the complex of apartments where one of our devotees lives.

The showing of Finding Happiness on Saturday night had been long-planned. At the last minute, another showing was arranged for Sunday morning at a University some distance from the city. This is a “yoga university,” based on the teachings of Vivekananda. It turned out to be the largest showing yet -- some 300 students and faculty. This is an innovative university, with a huge medical facility, teaching and offering treatments in many natural methods of health care, all based on the principles of yoga.

I wasn’t able to go since our Finding Happiness workshop was scheduled already at the center for the same time. Shivani, Haridas, and one of the local devotees went and had a stellar time. The equipment at the university includes machinery with the ability to measure subtle energy in the body and they greatly enjoyed testing some of it.

Shivani is hoping to set up with them some scientific way of measuring the effect of the Energization Exercises. Haridas and Roma -- the Bangalore Center leaders -- are going to follow through and be the guinea pigs. Shivani said she has been hoping for the last 20 years that equipment would become available subtle enough to measure this energy. Seems like the time is now.

The Bangalore Ananda Center is the living room of a two bedroom flat where Haridas and Roma live. The altar is particularly beautiful. Whenever there is an event in any of our India centers, fresh flower garlands are lovingly placed on every picture of every Master. In India, the providing of garlands for home and temple decoration is a huge, daily business.

For the Finding Happiness seminar, the garlands were of red roses and red carnations. I’ve seen many beautiful altars, but there was something uniquely entrancing about those red flowers. Certainly set the mood for a most enjoyable program.

Because people work long hours, and traffic in all Indian cities can be horrendous, weekday programs are uncertain at best. So my efforts are mostly concentrated on the weekends.

Since the next stop is Calcutta (Kolkata as it is now called, but I have trouble remembering that!), we found ourselves with a few days free.

Bryan went down to Puri, to the Mahasamadhi Mandir of Sri Yukteswar. In all his time in India he had never visited that particular shrine. Since it is my favorite, I was delighted that he would have the chance to experience it. The ocean there is considered holy. It washes away our karma. Always a good idea!

Shivani had arranged for the three of us to come to Thiruvannamalai. This is a place between Bangalore and Chennai. The reason to come is because of a holy mountain, said to be the physical manifestation of Lord Shiva. It is called Arunachala. You find temples here where the murti -- the image of God -- is the three hillocks of Arunachala.

The mountain itself has been especially blessed in recent times by the presence of a great yogi, Ramana Maharshi. From the late 1800s, until the mid-50s (I am not certain of the exact dates) he made this mountain his home.

He was a very austere yogi, who spent much of his time in silent meditation. Before I met Swamiji, I read a great deal about him and felt deeply inspired by his one-pointed devotion. Up until the age of 16, he lived as an ordinary person. Then he had a revelation that there was no purpose to life except to realize the Infinite within. He walked away from his home and never returned, although later, his mother came and lived with him and became very spiritually advanced.

He went first to a temple at the base of the mountain where he meditated for some years in a small underground room. Then he moved up the mountain, found a cave under a huge rock, and for some 16 years lived there. People in the area, even when he was in the temple, discovered him, felt his spiritual greatness, and began to come for darshan and provide the little he needed to live there. Eventually they built for him around another cave higher on the mountain, a small ashram where he stayed for another 7 years.

Then one day he came down the mountain, and an ashram was constructed at the base of Arunachala, where he lived until the end of his life.

Early this morning, we went to the ashram and to the caves, meditating in each for some time.

Since we stopped leading pilgrimages, almost 10 years ago now, the holy spot I have visited in India has been wherever Swamiji was staying. So it has been many years since I have had a morning like today. It was blissful. Pilgrimage is a great spiritual boon.

I visited this ashram once before. I think it was 15 years ago after one of our India pilgrimage. Durga, Vidura, Lila and David Hoogendyke, David and I came here for three days. Our thought was perhaps to add it on to the itinerary we usually followed. We stayed in the ashram that time. We were inspired, but felt it wasn’t right for our tour.

Accommodations at the ashram were simple, and I think we were a little spoiled by the 5-star hotels we were used to, and also a little tired from our long pilgrimage. For whatever reasons, I didn’t tune into the place as I did today.

This ashram is more notably dedicated to silent meditation that many we have visited -- quite appropriate given the nature of Ramana Maharshi himself. There are large shrines to him and also to his mother, where daily ceremonies are carried out, but even the ceremonies are more melodious than in some places we have visited.

And the most important shrines -- the caves where he lived and the room where he gave darshan -- are silence only, reserved for meditation. Even when the sounds of ceremony and song drift in from the nearby halls, they add, rather than take away from the meditative experience.

Many people come here, including quite a lot of devotees from Europe. The Europeans seem to enter easily into the spirit of India. There were lots of dreadlocks and shaved heads among the light-skinned devotees. And many rock still, silent meditators. A joy.

During the meditation, especially in the caves, I tried to tune in to what it would be like to feel, as Ramana Maharshi did, that the only duty in life is to meditate. He served through his meditation, and the darshan he gave freely to all who came, but in no other way. No classes, lectures, writing, or building of communities. A very different mission from ours.

I wondered what his years of meditation were like. When he was living under the temple it is said he was plagued by mosquitoes and other animal pests, but remained completely oblivious. What would it be like to be so absorbed in the Infinite?

I remembered a passage in Swamiji’s commentary on the Gita in which he instructed highly advanced yogis how to work out their remaining karma through meditation and visions. Was that what Ramana Maharshi was doing?

Somewhat jokingly, when I read that passage in the Gita commentary, I said to Swamiji, “This part doesn’t apply to very many people.”

With complete seriousness Swamiji replied, “But for those to whom it does apply, it will be very useful.”

Thinking about Ramana Maharshi walking out of his home at the age of sixteen, finding an underground room in the temple and sitting there to meditate without a thought about how he would eat, shelter himself, or survive in the years ahead, I am awestruck by his indifference to the human condition, and his complete faith in God.

Then I thought of the life I have led. In my early 20s I came to live at Ananda. In the course of this tour, I spoke of that choice. Someone asked me, “Weren’t you afraid? Weren’t you worried about what might happen to you?”

“It never crossed my mind,” I said. “I never gave it a single thought.” All my “batchmates” at Ananda did the same thing with the same faith.

My moving to Ananda hardly compares to Ramana Maharshi leaving home at 16 and settling into a room under the temple where he did nothing but meditate. Or perhaps it does. Not in realization, but in the direction of development that each represents.

I walked away from a university education. Ramana Maharshi walked away from the whole world. My “renunciation” doesn’t compare to his. I am an infant; he is a King. But both of us were motivated by the same impulse: What is day to the worldly man is night to the yogi. What is night to the worldly man is day to the yogi.

Whatever stage of realization we have, we have faith to match it, and take action in accordance with that faith. I easily left behind my university life (brief and unsatisfactory) and any thought of money or career. Far below the faith of Ramana Maharshi certainly, but still, more faith than some would have -- the woman who asked me about it, for example. Especially in India, education is everything. The idea of doing what I did made her about as nervous as I feel contemplating the life of Ramana Maharshi. What we haven’t experienced we don’t understand.

There was a yogi living in Badrinath -- a holy place in India -- that we met on one of our pilgrimages. Later Swamiji asked me my impressions of him. The yogi had told us that during the winter season he leaves his physical body and goes in his astral body to be with Babaji high in the Himalayas.

I said to Swamiji, “He spoke about it in such a matter of fact way. I didn’t know what to think. I would have expected a more reverential tone.”

“Well,” Swamiji replied, “at a certain point, it is matter of fact to do such a thing.”

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Master explains the “law” of miracles. In other words, miracles are as matter of fact for those who perform them as they are, well, miraculous to us who don’t have the power to operate the law.

It is very important for all of us to embrace the naturalness of spiritual advancement. Yes, we should have reverence for those who have attained states high above our own, but at the same time, appreciate that they have merely advanced farther down the same road we ourselves are walking.

Remember when Swamiji played the part of Jesus in a pageant for a local group? He had a beard, which was rare at that time, and the group had asked him if he would play the part. When Master asked about it afterwards, Swamiji said, “I would rather be like Jesus instead of merely looking like him.”

Master replied in a matter of fact way, “That will come. That will come.”

So it is for all of us.

When Master came to India in 1935 he came to this ashram to visit Ramana Maharshi. There is a brief film clip of Master’s visit here, at least one moment of it when a group gathered around Ramana Maharshi to have their pictures taken. It was a movie but, notably, the yogi was not moving. Master moves and gestures around him, but Ramana Maharshi remains utterly still in the middle, seemingly absorbed, as he often was, in the Infinite.

We are not staying in the ashram. We are not quite 5-star, either, but are resident for a few days in a beautiful little resort. Simple, peaceful, harmonious. Stone buildings with tile floors in a garden setting. Couldn’t be nicer.

I have been healthy and energetic through this entire tour, grateful to be sharing almost every day with groups and individuals. Especially now that he has gone into the Infinite, I feel a deep joy in passing on to others as much as I can of the grace, love, and wisdom Swamiji showered on us.

I haven’t felt the need for a break from that service, but, nonetheless, I am basking in the silence and inspiration of being here.

Day after tomorrow we drive to Chennai, Arjuna goes back to Italy, and Shivani and I go on to Calcutta to meet up with Bryan, Shurjo, Narayani, and Jemal, for a long weekend of programs, and one more showing of Finding Happiness.

Blessings and joy,