Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gurgaon, Mumbai, Pune

Dear Friends:

Last time I wrote I was beginning my series of classes in Gurgaon. Bryan and I had moved into the spacious ashram we now have there, settling in for a longish stay. I am a little fuzzy on the details, but I think it was about 10 days, with occasional forays back into Delhi or to other of our branch centers. Think going to Berkeley or Scotts Valley from Palo Alto.

Years ago, a friend from another ashram spent all her time traveling. She had no fixed residence but went from city to city sharing her guru’s teachings. I asked her, “How do you do it?”

“Where ever I am,” she said, “that is where I live. Even if it is only a taxicab for 30 minutes, I consider that cab my home.”

So, for the duration, Gurgaon was home. I deliberately blurred the concept of a starting and ending point. Much more enjoyable that way.

Whenever someone asked Swamiji, “How have you been able to accomplish so much?” he replied, “By concentrating completely on whatever I am doing.”

With so many dear and beloved friends far away, it would be easy to live divided. The sadhana of travel is surrender to the moment.

All the programs are already posted on-line. Suffice to say it has all been interesting. Since I always speak extemporaneously, new country and culture bring new inspiration.

I had thought to use our “spare time” (of which there is precious little!) and Bryan’s high-quality equipment, to make an audio book of Loved and Protected: Stories of Miracles and Answered Prayers.

It turns out that a few minutes from the Gurgaon ashram, there is a recording studio that belongs to the family of one of our members. She is a beautiful singer; her parents are filmmakers. They built into their home a world-class studio.

It was available, so arrangements were made, and 3 days in a row, I went to their home/studio and read the book out loud.

What beautiful stories! Reading it brought back all the inspiration I felt gathering and writing them. I was sorry when the project was done!

The circumstances for recording couldn’t have been better. Pleasant surroundings, skilled engineer, good friends to entertain and cheer me on during the breaks. And more than the comforts of home.

All I had to say was, “A little hot lemon and water, please.” “Masala chai would be nice.” “Anyone else hungry for lunch?” and soon the needful would appear on a tray.

The engineer, Mani, is now editing the file and perhaps it will arrive in Palo Alto before I do, or at least not long after.

I had a few uncommitted days at the end of the tour, so have decided to go back to Gurgaon and do an audio of the next book, which is questions and answers. Many of you received over the last few years, answers to questions that people sent in to me. I thought I could just staple them together and have a book. Turned out to require a huge amount of editing.

It was then organized by Crystal Clarity and designed by Tejindra (in Italy, who did the other book, too) in time to be sent to India and printed before I arrived. The final title is Ask Asha: Heartfelt Answers to Common Dilemmas on the Spiritual Path.

People here seem to like it. It will be published in America in a few months.

From Gurgaon, we flew to Mumbai for two days. First night was a satsang at the home of a devotee for the core members of the Ananda group. About 25 people for informal questions and answers. I felt so blessed to be in their company. All of Master’s children shine with his sweetness and love.

The next evening, I spoke in the same lecture hall I was in a few weeks earlier. The day after was a “Level One” class -- which is first step to Kriya yoga.

My subject was “Kriya Yoga: Pathway to Self-Realization.” It was the freebie to entice them to sign up for Level One.

When I have a talk to give, I meditate on the subject and see what inspiration comes. Sometimes what I feel in advance matches what the audience needs to hear. But if I am too committed to a particular series of ideas that can interfere with what the people in the room at the moment need to hear.

Although I was rarely at a loss for words, it was not an easy talk to give. Of the 60 or so people there, the majority were new to Ananda. There were so many different thoughts and questions in the room that I felt myself scrambling from point to point to provide the understanding they wanted.

There was no unifying thread on which to hang the talk, as there is when more in the room are already devotees. There was a good turnout for the class next day, so I guess Master managed to touch a few hearts.

Even though I have been giving classes for many years, every situation is unique. Whatever gathering of souls, in whatever location, has never happened before and will never happen again. It is a unique divine convergence for which I am asked to be the mouthpiece, an expansive opportunity to learn on ever-deeper levels how to be a channel. When I am in places I have never been, speaking to people I have never met, I understand why Swamiji asked me to serve in this way.

Last time in Mumbai we stayed at a delightful hotel right on the beach. This time we stayed at the guesthouse connected to the ISKCON temple in Mumbai. ISKCON -- International Society for Krishna Consciousness -- runs what amounts to a hotel on the same grounds as their large and very popular temple. Many of the people who stay there come to enjoy the temple. Others, like us, find it a pleasant, sattwic way to be in noisy, crowded Mumbai.

Not that the hotel itself is quiet! First ceremonies begin at 4am and ISKCON devotees are known for their exuberant expression of devotion. I passed on 4am and went for the second round at 7:00am the two mornings we were there.

The temple is lovely, a large open patio, next to a roofed area with shrines for the deities. All is beautifully carved and painted. There are three sets of deities -- two of Radha and Krishna, one of Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Hanuman.

The shrines and the statues are exquisitely and elaborately dressed and decorated -- different every day. Plus flowers galore, garlands and bouquets and other offerings. I have deep samskars with the culture of India and even though I am not drawn to this kind of worship now, it touches my heart to see it.

While the priests were doing their ceremonies, and the devotees passed near the shrines to receive the light, prashad, and darshan from the deities, groups of men on one side and women on the other were dancing to the chanting and drumming which went on continuously.

The men were almost athletic; the women more delicate, holding hands, moving in a circle.

One woman stood out from the group. Her movements seem to come from a source deep within herself. Watching her, I remembered the story in the Autobiography of a Yogi when Master was silently criticizing a too-outward expression of devotion by a group of chanting devotees. Suddenly Master Mahasaya appeared by his side and said about those devotees, how blissful to hear God’s name chanted whether loud or tenderly.

On the path of Self-realization, we have to start where we are and move forward from there. Every step in the right direction is cause for celebration. Those who have achieved the goal define the practice. Everyone else does his or her best as realization gradually dawns. That one dancer so inwardly inspired shows where all of them are heading.

After the chanting and ceremonies were over, ladies settled around the patio with large bunches of fresh flowers quickly carried in by flower merchants. The women went right to work making the garlands for the next round of worship.

Past life memories merged with the present and I saw myself embroidering garments for the deities and making the daily garlands. Happy incarnations serving God in that way.

At the same time, how grateful I am that those days are past! On to the next stage in the soul’s long journey home to God.

Narayani and Shurjo came to Mumbai, and on Saturday we drove together to Pune City for a satsang with our group there. They have rented a small house in a lovely neighborhood where they hold most of their meetings.

This group is nourished both by devotees in the city, and by those living on the land, 1.5 hours away. It is a joyous and focused family, a blessing to be with them.

There are several unifying factors of Ananda groups worldwide. Kriya, of course, devotion to the Gurus, the music. Then there is the food! Cuisine may vary but quality, quantity, and enthusiasm are shared by all.

Every Pune City event is followed by refreshments that amount to a multi-course meal. Swamiji once said to Master, “Help me overcome my attachment to good food.” Master assured him that it was nothing to be concerned about, “When ecstasy comes, everything goes.” Meaning all attachments dissolve. Nice to have permission to enjoy ourselves in the meantime!

Then on to the community, where I am now, and will be for another 6 days.

Right now I am starting a weekend retreat called Finding Happiness.

So I have to end this letter and get ready for the first class.

Blessings and love to all,

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