Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mt. Tabor, Nazareth, Meggido, Tzfat, Jerusalem

Dear Everyone:

Pilgrimage is unpredictable. You leave home with an idea in your mind of what your heart is longing to see, where you expect to have your most meaningful moments. God laughs and gives what He knows you need.

I spoke of this trip as going to Jerusalem. Among other reasons, that was why I was so intent on joining the group on time. The trip began in Jerusalem.

As it happened, there was unpredictable violence and with a (welcome) excess of caution, our tour company changed the itinerary to avoid the Old City in those first days. I missed Ain Karim (where Mary and Elisabeth met), the Mount of Olives (which they only drove around but did not walk through), and Gethsemene. Important places for sure, but in the whole flow of the pilgrimage, I don’t feel deprived.

Also because of the random acts of violence in the country, we exchanged one night in Jerusalem for an extra day in Galilee.

Which, as it turned out, was God’s perfect plan. Jerusalem has been profound, but Galilee is my home with Jesus.

Especially Mount Tabor, the Mount of Transfiguration. It was here Jesus took a few of his disciples to witness a divine vision. Jesus was transformed into light and beside him stood Elijah and Moses. Here is Swamiji’s song:

The man that was Jesus had shown his pure form.
Upon a high mountain he stood, transfigured in light.
That his chosen might see that he was the Christ.
Ah, hope of all hope! Ah, joy of all joy!
Toward Thee we aspire, who believe in Thy word.

Also dedicated to the Transfiguration is the song, “When Human Hopes Toward Thee Aspire.”

As you would expect, all through Israel there are mobs of pilgrims from all countries and denominations. The final ascent up Mount Tabor is a switch-back road, too winding for the buses, so you stop at a taxi stand and wait till a mini-bus can take you up.

Arriving at the top of the hill we were listening to the Mass in several languages as well as the general hubbub of so many visitors. We’ve grown used to it and are getting good at tuning it out. We luckily found a quiet spot on the outside of the church, where we could sing the appropriate songs and hear our own voices.

After the singing, the group went off to have a Purification Ceremony, but it was my moment and I sat against the wall, in a deep, immoveable silence.

The site closes from noon to four, and as we approached the noon hour, the hilltop vacated till our group was virtually alone.

At every site there is at least one, often multiple churches (different denominations). The churches themselves (to me) are usually not of interest. Meditating in or outside of them is more a question of convenience or quiet than beauty or vibrations. Not so on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The architecture was guided by the spirit of Christ. It is an enormous structure, but so elegant in its design and decoration that it gave even more inspiration to the experience.

After a time I wandered into the church, empty except for a few of us meditating there, and silent in a way that gave new meaning to the word. Not merely the absence of sound. It was the living proof of the Biblical promise, “Be still and know that I am God.”

In various places there were glass panels on the floor revealing the bedrock underneath where, presumably, Jesus stood with his disciples at the moment of divine revelation.

Finally, it was going to be lunch hour for the taxi drivers and we had to take the last ride down the hill. Reluctantly, so reluctantly, we left.

From Mt. Tabor we went to Nazareth, where the angel appeared to Mary and told her she would be the mother of Jesus.

For this site, Swamiji wrote:

God is Truth; God is Love;
Father, Mother, both are one.
When our hearts cry out in pain,
Mother, bring us peace again!
Every mother brings to birth
Hints of Thy love for all the earth.

Also this:

To Mary there came an angel of light
Who announced the will of the Lord.
Her purity blessed mankind with new life:
Through Mary, the light descended.
O God of peace! O God of Joy!
May our souls find their freedom in Thee!

The church is built over a stone dwelling, a converted cave, which is believed to be the house where Mary lived and where the angel spoke to her.

The church itself is immense and entirely lacking in the inspiration we found in the architecture of the church of Mt. Tabor. To further complicate the experience, there is a huge organ and our visit coincided with the practice hour for the organist. The instrument was amazing, his skill impressive, but his taste in music wasn’t my own. His theme seemed to be the battle of light and darkness and I had the impression that darkness was winning. (To be fair, others thought the music was fabulous and could have listened to him play all day! “Every atom of creation is dowered with individuality.” Each of us follows a unique karmic thread to the same divine goal!)

Still, the site of Mary’s simple home and the realization of what a profound event took place on that site transcended all other considerations and sweet silence existed inwardly in the midst of everything.

Our last day in Galilee we again went out on the water before dawn. There was no mist and we had an unobstructed view of the brilliant orb of the sun coming over the hills surrounding the lake, its rays streaking out over the water, as if reaching out to bless us in the boat as we silently watched (and inwardly applauded) Divine Mother’s show.

We were heading back to Jerusalem with two stops along the way. First in Tzfat (also spelled Zafed, Safed), the home for centuries of mystical Judaism. Some time ago enlightened rabbis settled there and over the years it has become the center in Israel for the study of the Kabbalah. It is also an artists colony. Altogether very interesting.

Our guide, Marty — an enthusiastic, giving, highly knowledgeable man — took us to meet a particular artist/teacher. Like so many Israelis, this man was born in America and emigrated later. He gave us a fascinating introductory class on the Kabbalah, illustrated with some of the many mandala-like pieces of art he has created.

Beautiful art. Wise and loving man. Fascinating subject. It helped all of us to feel more clear about the ancient and present reality of Judaism.

A little time to wander through the shopping area — filled with lovely artistic pieces. Feast for the heart and for the eyes.

Marty is very knowledgeable about the history of Israel and how it links to the Old Testament. This country gives a whole new perspective on the word “old.” We visited an archeological site called Meggido. This is a hilltop near a key canyon on a critical road through the country.

It is mentioned in the Bible several times as well as other historical texts. Archeologists have uncovered 24 different distinct cities all built on the same strategic hill.

I’m not much for piles of old rocks, but this was truly impressive!

In the song Swamiji wrote for the crucifixion of Jesus — “You Remain Our Friend” — which we sing every week, there is this line, “Though eternally rejected, you remain our Friend.”

Seeing the grand sweep of history and how mankind has acted out over and over again essentially the same story of conquest and defeat…. well, to quote Bertie Wooster (i.e., P. G. Wodehouse), “It makes you think a bit!”

Once we reach the human level, Master tells us, we have the freedom to wander in delusion for as long as we choose. Not that all 24 of those cities were built by the same souls but one can well imagine a cycle of defeat and revenge and victory and defeat being acted out through reincarnation quite a few times before the soul is ready to move on.

By the way, some of you may not have remembered that “You Remain Our Friend” was inspired by Swamiji’s visit to the Holy Sepulcher (the place where Jesus was crucified). Swamiji says that “When praying for a melody that would express, for me, the mood of Christ’s crucifixion, I concentrated on compassion, and on unconditional love.” It makes it ideal for weekly reaffirmation of our relationship with God and God’s relationship with us.

Now, Jerusalem.

Our guide is an observant Jew. Which means from sundown on Friday till sundown on Saturday, among other things, he doesn’t use any mechanical devices. He doesn’t use a car or a bus, but only goes places that he can walk to.

We were happy to have a religious person as a guide and accommodated our schedule to his needs. Which meant that we went into the old city — within walking distance of our hotel — on our second day in the city, so that Marty could go with us.

The first day we used the bus and went to the Museum of Israel.

I am not big on museums but on pilgrimage part of the sadhana is to say an enthusiastic “yes” to whatever God brings. Fortunately, He knows better than me.

This is one of the premier museums in the world — and well-deserves its reputation. To begin with, they have “immortalized their ideals in architecture.” It is beautifully laid out and every exhibit is exquisite. Only the best is on display and everything is perfectly displayed.

They have all kinds of collections, so I’ll just mention a few.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (or copies) are on display. The building in which you view them is designed to match the clay pot in which the scrolls were found. On an immense scale, of course. But when you look up from the fascinating exhibits you are inside a clay pot, with a rising curving roof and the circular pattern of how the clay was formed. And downstairs you are inside a cave where the pots were discovered.

Magnificent.

Here also there is a scale model of Jerusalem as it is presumed to have been at the time of Jesus. The son of a wealthy man was killed during the war of Independence in 1948 and the father built this model as a memorial to his son. Every building is made out of stone, laid out across a large hill outside, at a scale (I think) of 1:50.

So before we went into the Old City, we got a view of how it had been before.

Most impressive was the immensity of the Temple that was there at the time of Jesus. You could see why the sincere devotees of that time attracted to them one who would reform and renew their faith. The mere size of the Temple compound spoke so much about worldly power and wealth. Oh my. Quite a contrast to the simple “love God, be ye like little children” message of Jesus.

Wandering on our own in the museum I randomly found my way to the European art section where I found a Rembrandt painting, “Peter in Prison.”

There is a reason why some art is revered through the ages. This is one of those pieces. This was not the final imprisonment for Peter, but the time he was miraculously freed by angels. But before he was freed, when he didn’t know the miracle was coming.

You can look the painting up on the internet. Even there you can see what an exquisite piece of art it is.

Right near it in the museum was a carving done from ivory and ebony, plus a little metal and glass. The subject was Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac. Isaac is bound and the fire is laid. Abraham has raised his sword to strike Isaac but there is an angel above him, hand outstretched just about to stop him. That is the moment captured in this exquisite piece. It was made by an artist whose name I can’t remember sometime in the 1700s. (When I tried to find it on the internet I wasn’t able to.)

And these were just two pieces in an immense warren of galleries.

In the afternoon of that day we went out into a nearby woods and made pita bread over an open fire which we consumed with olive oil, an herbal mix of sesame seed and hyssop, and, for a total change of pace, Nutella if you preferred. Child-like fun.

Friday night we were invited to the home of a family in Jerusalem to celebrate the Sabbath. It is an American couple, Hillel and Chaya, who founded and run the Sheval Center. They are also transplanted Americans. He is an orthodox rabbi and she is a writer and artist. They are both therapists and are pioneering a style of Jewish life that is orthodox in its beliefs and practices but speaks also to the needs of the time.

Every Friday evening they have tourists groups from all over the world into their home to share the Sabbath dinner, prayers, songs.

Having grown up with some of these rituals I admit I wasn’t all that interested in this event, but saying “yes” (and meaning it with one’s whole heart) is pilgrimage, so I was happily present for what turned out to be a deeply touching evening.

They have four children. The oldest are 8-year old twins. The children had already gone to bed so we only met the baby at the end, who woke up and demanded the attention of his parents. As it happened, this baby boy, Levi, probably ranks in the top ten all time cutest babies. Our hearts were already wide open and he just marched right in!

It was the sabbath, however, and no electronic devices could be used, so no pictures.

Hillel and Chaya have chosen to bring light where light is desperately needed, living and doing their work in Jerusalem. They combine their therapy practice with the kinds of activities we also offer — groups for men and women, meditation, yoga practice.

My favorite for pure creativity goes to the event for women held at/in the Dead Sea aptly titled “Floating in Bliss.”

Pray for their work. They are kindred spirits. Part of the great ring of light-workers around the globe.

Through Marty we had come to know much about modern Israel and present-day Judaism, but this brought it all to a clearer, heartfelt focus.

Saturday we went into the Old City. We started just outside the walls, in a replica of the room where the Last Supper was held. It was filled with very loud pilgrims and I found it without inspiration. Right nearby was the tomb of David.

It is considered a synagogue, and this was the sabbath, so no electronics could be used, i.e., no pictures. The small room is partitioned into separate sections for men and women. It was delightfully cool and silent and meditation was deep and effortless.

From there we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Which was neither cool nor silent, but jammed with noisy pilgrims.

It is a huge church built over the last few stations of the cross. It includes where Jesus was crowned with thorns, crucified, taken from the cross and laid on a stone, anointed there with herbs and oils and then placed in the stone tomb where he lay for three days until the Resurrection.

Naturally, every Christian coming to Israel wants to come to this place.

The lines to touch the stone upon which the cross stood, and the tomb where his body was laid were too long, too noisy and too restless for me even to consider. I found a spot nearby. Fortunately, spirit is stronger than the restless human mind, and it was deep and still.

Later I also sat by the stone where his body was laid. Impossible to get close to the tomb, so I leave that for another time.

That whole spot, of course, was vibrant with the presence of Christ but for me where Christ lives in the Holy Land was in Galilee.

We went into the Old City for lunch in the Armenian Quarter.

The next day we went to the Western Wall, at the base of Temple Mount, where the Temple stood where Jesus preached and faced down his critics. Where he drove out the money changers and so many of the dramatic incidents of his life took place.

The Mount itself is a Moslem site and our guide suggested we not go there at all. So as close as we got was the Western Wall, where Jews come from all over the world to pray and to press into the cracks in the rock written prayers. Impossible not to be moved by so much devotion, ancient and now.

What made an even deeper impression on me was a part of the Western Wall that is an archeological site. They have excavated down to the paving stones of the Roman world, the level of ground on which Jesus walked, which is considerably lower than ground level at the prayer section.

Massive doesn’t begin to describe it! Stones, immense in themselves, piled one on top of another going many many many feet into the air.

Standing on those paving stones, looking up at that wall. Leaning up against it, feeling its immensity, my thought was simply, “No wonder Jesus left for Galilee!” And also, “The simplicity and joy of his teachings never had a chance against the weight (literally!) of this material power!”

Earlier we had walked through a district where our guide explained lavish mansions had been uncovered — which were inhabited by the temple priests! Power and money. Those delusions have tempted man forever.

The conflict between the message of Jesus and the establishment of the religion of his day was so obvious.

Jerusalem was where Jesus fought to bring light into darkness. I could understand why he wept as he looked over the city. Wept because of the unwillingness of so many to see what he had to bring them.

The drama of Jerusalem, the sheer power of Jesus’ triumph is thrilling.

For me though, Galilee, with “his chosen few” where “they sang with him and worshipped the Lord,” was my heart-place in the Holy Land..

This has been a profound and joyous journey. Every minute of it.

And I am ready to come back to life as it has been given to me in this incarnation.

So grateful, for so many blessings,

Love,
Asha

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rome, Bethlehem and Galilee

Dear Everyone:

I’ll start where we are now. Galilee.

Jerusalem is the most dramatic part of the life of Christ, but Galilee is where much of his mission took place.

It was here that he “gathered round his chosen few….in their youth, in their joy, all they asked of God was freedom to love.”

That’s the whole teaching. And we are living it.

Yesterday began early out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, drifting in the middle of the lake in silent meditation as the sun rose over the hill.

The crew remarked afterwards that we were the most serene group of pilgrims ever. If more people were like us, they said, there would be peace in the middle East.

It is hard to explain experiences like these. “Living presence of God” comes the closest. It is Swamiji’s name for his Oratorio, “Christ Lives in the Holy Land — and in You.”

Swamiji said when liberation comes we look back at all our incarnations and the only thing we remember is those moments when we were in the presence of God. Much of yesterday will be remembered.

We went also to Capernaum and sat at the water’s edge and meditated. Then later wandered around the ruins, including the remnants of a synagogue built on the exact spot where the temple stood where Jesus taught.

On pilgrimage, one is in so many places at the same time. Where we came from and where we will soon return. The physical place we have traveled to. And the ancient reality we came to experience.

At Capernaum, we had The Festival of Light, looking out over the water, sitting on rocks under the shade of a tree.

We must be careful not to let over-familiarity blind us to what we have in The Festival and in all that Swamiji has opened to us of Master’s ray. On the banks of the Sea of Galilee I felt The Festival as Swamiji intended it to be.

Most Catholic priests can do their Mass in less than an hour, but Padre Pio would spend 3 times that long, because every aspect of it was to him, not mere ritual, but the living presence of Christ.

Before coming to Galilee, we were in the desert region, near the Dead Sea, at a hotel run by a kibbutz. The scope and desolation of the deserts here is hard to imagine until you see it. The beautiful hotel and grounds where we stayed has been scratched out of the desert over the past 60 years by the kibbutzim.

The view from my room was a bluff of barren hills. When the first kibbutzim came to the area, the bluff on which the hotel sits was equally barren. Water was a kilometer away and no one until then had even considered that the hillside could be transformed by pipes and pumps and sheer determination.

We visited Masada. Some of us walking up that massive hill in the relative coolness of pre-dawn, watching the sun rise over the Dead Sea, and the play of light on the barren, wind-carved landscape spread beneath us.

Masada is a story of courage — Jews fleeing from Roman rule to take refuge on the hilltop where they lived for about 7 years until Roman legions came and crushed their rebellion. At the end, the entire community chose death before dishonor and committed suicide rather than allow themselves to be conquered.

So many lifetimes of alternating tragedy and fulfillment. Literally, beyond our ability to comprehend. Understanding comes only in the presence of God.

We also visited Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We hiked a brief distance up into the surrounding hills, where the monks had their caves.

Sitting on the ground meditating on a rocky hillside, it was easy to imagine a lifetime of silent communion. In Kali Yuga descending, spiritual seekers had to separate themselves from society. Truth was preserved in isolation, waiting for a more auspicious time.

Master’s mission is Dwapara rising. Kriya has come out of the hermit’s cave, brought by Lahiri to the streets of Varanasi and through him to all of us. Different times have different needs but the communion with God is always the same.

We also visited Bethlehem. It was pure joy to be there. Hot, crowded, noisy — none of it mattered to me. It was all about the baby Jesus.

My arrival in Israel was later than expected. I planned to be here last Monday evening but didn’t arrive until dawn on Thursday.

In all my travels till now, I’ve only missed one connection, and had luggage delayed only one time. Last week karma was different.

Coming from Mumbai through Abu Dabi, we were late. I just made the flight to Rome but didn’t stop to think that my luggage probably wasn’t with me. In Rome, luggage was late coming off the plane. Of course, my bag wasn’t there. It was almost two hours before it was straightened out. Too late to get the plane to Israel.

No problem; there are lots of flights. I arranged to have my bag sent to Jerusalem.

Turned out it was a Jewish holiday and everyone was going to Israel. The earliest I could go was late Wednesday night.

I checked into the airport hotel. It is a 2.5 hour direct flight. Searching the internet, I found a route through Munich that would take a mere 10 hours (most took 24 or more, taking you all around the planet before reaching Tel Aviv).

The next day went to catch that flight. Expensive, but the first day of the pilgrimage was in Jerusalem and I wanted to be there. God had other plans.

That morning at breakfast, the waiter said, “We are closing the buffet in 5 minutes, at 10:30.”
I looked at my watch and it was exactly 10:25. I left the hotel at noon, and I think my watch said 12:00.

Sometime between noon and 2:00, when I went to the gate to get on the plane, the batteries in my watch lost power and slowed it down 40 minutes.. Instead of boarding the plane, I found out it had already taken off!

Amazing.

As it happened, Kirtani and Anand and Dana Anderson were in Rome to catch a flight the next morning, so we had a few wonderful hours together. Great compensation.

Overall, I was not even-minded or cheerful about the delay. Some ripple in my karma that had to be lived through. Perhaps in a previous life I died on the way to Jerusalem! I felt intensely nervous inside.

The time in India touched my heart and spirit deeply. That, plus sleep deprivation, and intense eagerness to be in Jerusalem reduced me to tears on Monday when I saw I wasn’t going to make it. I went into a corner of the airport, sat on the floor and sobbed. I wasn’t sure why I was crying, but I had no choice.

I was too attached, too self-concerned, too committed to my plans and my desires. God wanted me to be on pilgrimage, not on a journey of my own choosing.

When I missed the plane on Tuesday, I was simply amazed. “God doesn’t want me to be in Jerusalem yet,” I said to the clerk when I checked back into the airport hotel. He didn’t even need my passport. All the information was still active in the computer. My 24-hours of internet hadn’t expired.

The whole time in Rome, I had no luggage, having confidently sent it on to Israel.

I expected to find it in Jerusalem, but when I got there at dawn on Thursday it hadn’t yet arrived. By then, I was having a good time and just borrowed from everyone, ready to do the whole pilgrimage in other people’s clothes.

But when we returned from Bethlehem, my bag was there. I felt the karma come to zero. Whatever that was about was over.

Forgot to mention baptism in the Jordan. The river is only about 20 feet across and meanders quietly through banks dense with reeds. At what is presumed to be the spot where John baptized Jesus, beautiful stone porticos have been erected but at the river itself there is a simple wooden platform that goes down in steps into the river — like the ghats in India.

Diksha and Gyandev stood at the deepest part — only waist deep on the platform — and we one by one went into the water and received a blessing from them. As Diksha put it quite simply, “As soon as I went into the water I went somewhere else and I didn’t return for a long time.”

It is muddy looking but feels pure and blessed. As I went underwater there was a feeling of leaving all karma behind to be carried away by God. We sat on the bank and chanted a bit and sang some from the Oratorio.

Where divine events have transpired, the imprint of the divine remains seemingly for eternity.

While in the desert (forgive the lack of sequence to this narrative, the order doesn’t matter) we hiked into a canyon to what is called David’s spring. From the most barren, brutally hot landscape we soon found ourselves walking by a stream, passing through waterfalls until we reached a large fern grotto with water falling from the rock some hundreds of feet above.

Quite apart from all the spiritual power, the land itself is stunning in its contrasts. And what the Jewish people have done with it is nothing less than a miracle. The politics of the region are overwhelming. We’ve had to tell ourselves repeatedly: Self-Realization is the answer. Therefore, the best thing we can do is what we are doing: love God, serve God, commune with God.

This morning we went to Tabgha — the place where Jesus appeared to some of his disciples after his resurrection. This was when they were out on the fishing boat and the “man on the shore” asked them: “Have you caught any fish?” When they replied in the negative, he suggested they cast the net on the other side. The net filled with fishes. In that moment, John recognized it was Jesus speaking to them. He told Peter and Peter leapt from the boat and rushed to Jesus through the water.

Jesus cooked fish and served bread to them.

At Tabgha there is small stone church which is built over a large rock which is said to be the rock from which Jesus served the disciples. It emerges from the floor and you can sit next to it and touch it and lay your to-be-blessed items upon it.

Right next to it is small opening to the Sea of Galilee. Wading out into the water, perched on the rocks time stops. I was facing the Sea when it occurred to me to face the shore. For that is where Jesus stood when he called to his disciples. Easy to see him with the eyes of spirit, and, like Peter, to drop everything and rush toward him.

AUM GURU.

Much love to all,
Asha

P.S. More photos taken by various fellow pilgrims are collected here.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pune, India

Dear Friends:

I’m away from Palo Alto for about a month on a journey of several parts.

The timing was defined by a retreat with East Coast devotees. For many years, every spring and fall, the devotees in that region have gathered for a weekend at a rural retreat center in Massachusetts. Usually in the spring it is Kriya; in the fall the subjects vary.

Jyotish and Devi did the Spring retreat; I was invited for the Fall. The theme was discipleship.

Many of the devotees have been meeting together for years and are strongly connected, not only with God and Gurus, but with one another. What joy!

It was a glorious weekend. An honor to be part of it.

When I accepted the invitation months ago, I thought I would extend my stay adding programs in New York and perhaps Boston. But when it was time to make that calendar, my heart wasn’t in it.

For months I had been looking at the Pilgrimage to Israel sponsored by the Expanding Light. I wanted to go, but kept talking myself out of it for all the usual reasons — time, money, and pressing responsibilities.

When I was a tour leader to India for those years (1986-2006) many times I advised people: When pilgrimage calls, say “Yes.” Finally, I took my own advice and signed up.

I’ve always wanted to go to Israel. First, growing up Jewish, then when I came to Ananda, out of devotion to Christ. The life of Jesus is so vivid to me, when I read or speak of it I can almost see the places where he walked. Now I will see them.

Between the retreat and the pilgrimage, there was a week to fill, which I decided to spend in Assisi. I haven’t been back since April 2013, right after Swamiji’s passing.

There would be one satsang. Otherwise the trip was to see friends, and meditate in the holy places there, including the room where Swamiji passed from this world.

Then news started coming from Pune, India. Dear friends were facing a challenging time.

Tushti and Surendra lived in Palo Alto for about ten years, managing East West Bookshop, teaching classes at the Sangha, and endearing themselves to all of us.

In July, Tushti became mysteriously ill. At first she dismissed it as the usual tummy troubles of India, but it soon proved itself far more serious.

Eventually she was diagnosed with cancer in the abdomen. Today she begins her first chemo treatment. She is in the category of “most positive outcome” but it hasn’t been, and won’t be for awhile, a pleasant journey.

Tushti has spent almost 50 nights in the hospital since it began. Indian hospitals are more informal than American ones. Smaller, less techno, more heart-full. The family is encouraged to spend the night with the patient. Sheets and towels are provided and a surprisingly comfortable couch bed to sleep on.

Except for a few times when others have come to visit, Surendra has spent almost all of those 50 nights in the hospital with Tushti.

Looking at my week before the pilgrimage, I saw that I could easily add a flight and come to India instead of staying in Italy. So here I am.

I have to admit I felt a pang at giving up my time in Assisi. But Divine Mother, as always, had me in the palm of Her hand.

As soon as I met Surendra and went with him to the nearby hospital — Ruby Hall Clinic — and into the large, private room which is home for Tushti right now — I felt the living presence of Master and Swamiji surrounding us.

Surendra is kind and lovingly attentive as always. Tushti is like a child in the arms of her Mother.

On the wall in front of her bed there is a large picture of Master and also one of Swamiji. The doctors and nurses come in and out, but it is clear Who is really in charge.

The situation are so unusual — day and night together in the hospital, with no pressing responsibilities. It is rare at Ananda to have so much uninterrupted time just to be with friends.

Exactly what I had hoped for in Assisi — heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul with gurubhais.

The three of us have always been good friends, but this circumstance has drawn us even closer.

The road in front of Tushti in her treatments and recovery, and Surendra in support of her, is not going to be easy. But they are living the truth that Master so often asserted: “It doesn’t matter what happens to us. All that matters is what we become through what happens to us.”

Let us become saints together. This is the motto of Ananda.

Because of the pilgrimages we led, and later visiting Swamiji here, I’ve been blessed to spend much time in India. The country has always held my heart in a way no other place does. “Vitamin India” seems essential to my inner wellbeing. It has been almost two years since I last visited, and my system was craving what only India can give.

Divine Mother’s perfect plans.

But that is not all.

As many of you know, for the past year or more I have been “working on a book.” This is, as I describe it, the “big book” about Swamiji I feel I was born to write.

I am a much more confident writer than I was a decade ago, but I confess to trepidation over this project. I haven’t yet reached the stage of procrastinating (out of lack of confidence) but I seemed to be getting ready to procrastinate! Oh dear.

A decade ago, when I was working on what became Swami Kriyananda As We Have Known Him, I spent almost a year reviewing and organizing a lifetime of notes. From the beginning I wrote down significant observations, events, and comments.

At the time I felt I should have been taking even more notes. Now I’m glad I didn’t! I have so many!

That first book turned out differently than I expected, being mostly stories I collected from others. The “files” were used, but only a little. All the years since they have been sitting — organized and ready — waiting for this project.

I am not able to think clearly about material that is only in the computer. So scanning has never been an option. I felt I couldn’t start writing until I had the whole picture. So the past year I’ve been “working on the book,” i.e. reviewing the files but haven’t started the actual writing.

Insights, understandings, relationships between events have become clear to me in ways they never were before. I am down to just 6 inches of paper, which I brought with me, and this is helping pass the time in a useful way during hours of plane flights.

Even though writing is no longer as difficult for me as it was a decade ago, I have been more anxious than I’d like to be about this project. I’ve been joking with my friends that I either need to start writing this book or stop talking about it!

So here I am in Pune, with Tushti and Surendra in the Ruby Hall Clinic. Tushti is remarkably better (according to Surendra) from the low ebb she reached earlier in this journey. She had a blockage in her stomach and wasn’t able to eat which has a rather deleterious effect on one’s energy. That was taken care of through surgery, nutrition through an IV, the insertion of a stent, and now, finally eating again. By comparison, she is absolutely peppy!

We walk several times a day through the hall of the hospital. She has a few visitors and we’ve had many lovely conversations.

I offered to read aloud to her. My choice was Swami Kriyananda As We Have Known Him. Short sections, interesting, inspiring. Seemed ideal.

I haven’t looked at that book in many years, but always think of it with great satisfaction. I know it came out well. Even more important though, for me personally, I know I did my best. Great satisfaction in that.

So I started reading it to Tushti.

You all know me, so you’ll understand this in the way I intend it: It is an excellent book. The author writes so movingly about Swamiji. Some times I had to stop reading until my tears subsided. It is sensitive, well written. Reading aloud, hardly a word needs changing.

I had forgotten, Divine Mother, how you work through me when you have a job to be done.

If I hadn’t come to India, I wouldn’t be reading that book aloud and I would never have known. This alone has made the entire trip worthwhile, and I haven’t even reached Jerusalem.

We live in the palm of Divine Mother’s hands. What a grace-filled, glorious place to be.

Love in God and Guru,
Asha

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Swami Kriyananda: A Truly Happy Man

I learned, some years ago, that the Stanford University Graduate School of Business offers a class on “How to Be Happy.”

I think it’s extremely touching. Excuse me for being a little cynical. I’m a Stanford dropout, from a very long time ago. Also, it’s my belief – though you may think it quaint – that most people in business school believe they’re taking courses on happiness.

When I entered Stanford in the fall of 1965, I thought there had to be a purpose to life, and I was desperate to find out what it was.

I was gifted in the ways that schools traditionally value – I had “school smarts.” Sometimes we just know things – we can play the piano easily, we know intuitively how to arrange flowers, or we have a special affinity for the French language.

In India, these past-life tendencies are called samskars. And my special samskar was school smarts. I knew how to do well in school without working hard.

And because I was school-smart, people expected me to do great things that held absolutely no attraction for me. It was a great dilemma. My teachers, parents, and relatives expected that my school-smarts would translate into money, success, and acclaim. But I knew those sorts of rewards couldn’t give me what I wanted.

I would look at the world and wonder what would be fulfilling. My parents were very loving, and there were no big traumas in my life. So I had nothing to complain about. But I was very much at sea, because I couldn’t figure out how to relate to the world.

On the outside, I functioned fine, but on the inside I felt as if I was standing a bit apart from the world with my arms folded, watching and trying to figure out how it worked.

I couldn’t relate to other people’s interests. I could hardly understand their conversations. I wondered, “Why are we always talking about nothing? Aren’t people interested in anything more?”

When I discovered Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, I found a phrase that perfectly described my situation. In the chapter on reincarnation, Yogananda says that it isn’t the tragic events of our lives that compel us to look for something better. It’s the “anguishing monotony” that begins to get to us after many incarnations.

Sooner or later, we begin to feel that we’ve “been there, done that,” and we start to wonder what it’s all about.

No power on earth can instill that longing in us for something better. It has to come from our own experience.

I wasn’t unhappy, but I felt a certain anguish about this life. I thought: here I am – I can be a doctor or a professor, and I can have a family and marry a dentist.

For some reason, I always imagined marrying a dentist. So I could marry a dentist, live in the suburbs, have a station wagon and a couple of kids and a dog. I could see it all looming, and in my mind’s eye it looked like a living hell. I didn’t know how I would survive if that’s how my life would end up.

There’s nothing wrong with that life, except that for me it was a picture of excruciating dreariness.

When I tried to imagine my life in thirty years, I really thought I would go out of my mind.

After several years of drifting, I met Swami Kriyananda, and it was a huge experience, because – wowie zowie – the moment I saw him, I instantly recognized that here was a genuinely happy man. He was the first happy man I had met, according to my personal definition of happiness.

It was ironic that I met Swami Kriyananda on the Stanford campus, where I had dropped out. I said above that I recognized him as a happy man. Later, I would understand that he was happy because he had tremendously expanded his consciousness.

When Swamiji walked into the room, I had an immediate feeling that I couldn’t sense the edges of his consciousness. With all the other people I’d met, I’d been able to sense the boundaries of their consciousness. They might be wonderful people, but there was a feeling that they were identified with a small corner of reality. There was a clear-cut edge to their awareness, as if their sense of self was fenced-in and could only expand so far.

From studying the lives of Christ-like masters, I’ve learned that their consciousness, and potentially ours, is unbounded.

In my life, I had reached a terrible impasse, where my existence seemed meaningless, and I couldn’t see a way forward. And then Swami Kriyananda walked in, and I immediately recognized that the answer was standing before my eyes. As I watched him walk in, I found myself thinking, “Look at that – a person can know himself and find happiness!”

Swami Kriyananda was a very natural person. He spoke good English, he told lots of jokes, and he had a wonderfully cosmopolitan background. Yet he was perfectly accessible. He wasn’t that different from me, except that he was a hundred percent different. When I saw him for the first time, I knew that I was seeing what it’s like to be happy all the time.

Not happy because life is dull and, oh well, we might as well be happy. Or because it isn’t so terrible, or because it’s all we’ve got. But in the sense of the heart’s deepest longing being completely fulfilled.

Christ’s crucifixion showed us that death no longer holds any power over us, once our consciousness is sufficiently expanded. He looked with compassion on those who were crucifying him, and he prayed that God spare them the consequences of their actions.

Now, that’s real happiness. Just making it through the day isn’t real happiness. True happiness is being completely aware of our deepest bliss-nature.

Swami Kriyananda was the least closed-down person I ever met. He was absolutely fearless in the way he related to life, because he knew that he had nothing to lose. He lived in an all-satisfying bliss, a “portable paradise” as Yogananda put it, so that his happiness was always within him.

How can we be happy all the time? By expanding our identity to include an ever-broader reality, until we are no longer enclosed by the ego’s limitations.

When we meditate, we remove the external reality from our awareness for a while, and we discover who we really are, when we aren’t involved with outward things.

You can’t die by meditating, but the process is similar. In meditation you return to the source of the breath. We breathe all the time, but where does the breath come from?

In the astral world, we don’t breathe in the same way. We breathe energy. It’s possible for great yogis to stop their breath and breathe only that pure energy, without dying. It happens when you meditate deeply – you move your awareness so close to the origin point of your energy that your body can remain alive and breathless for a long time. Your consciousness merges with a source of energy where you don’t have to keep pumping oxygen. In fact, the yogis tell us it’s very rejuvenating to the body to rest it so completely.

Now, the reason meditation is so valuable is that it helps us understand that we can exist without all the external things by which we define ourselves. I’m meditating, and I’m not talking or looking around, and ideally I’m not generating my usual mental chatter. Yet I’m fully conscious and aware of reality from a different perspective. And I feel wonderful, because I realize that all of my restless thoughts and actions are part of a superficial layer on top of my true reality. The power of meditation is that the more you experience that reality inside you, the easier it is to keep that joyful awareness while you’re active in the world.

The secret of being happy all the time is to live from the higher centers in the brain, just behind the forehead, at the point between the eyebrows. Yogananda said that the more we live with our attention at that center, in the “spiritual eye,” the more we will live in a state of positive awareness that eventually becomes perfect bliss. On the other hand, the more we live in the older part of the brain, especially the seat of ego in the medulla oblongata, below the back of the skull, the more vulnerable we are, and the more we feel separate from others.

Living with our awareness at the spiritual eye develops a feeling that I am as much a part of you as I am of myself. And a thousand beautiful awakenings follow.

Joy to You,
Asha

Monday, May 11, 2015

Taupo, New Zealand #3

Dear Friends:

Yesterday we finished our last program, the good-bye circle of our weekend retreat at Lake Taupo.

Being at Ananda is like living in an operetta, we explained, and then taught them the “good-bye song.” With many tears of gratitude we sang to each other. Then the New Zealanders took over and sang the traditional Maori good-bye. It was as if all the threads of the past weeks were knitted together in the most beautiful way.

Years ago I read an account of a death-and-return experience, in which the man said he found himself on the other side standing on the playing field of what seemed to be a huge sports stadium entirely filled with angelic being cheering for him! They were there to give him strength for the final burst across the finish line of that incarnation.

The retreat was not the end of life for any of us, but it does mark the end of this journey and the beginning, or early stages, for many of their exploration, devotion, or discipleship to this path of Self-realization.

We were “two or more, gathered in His name,” and there He was in the midst of us.

From the beginning of my travels -- starting in the 70s -- I’ve never gone on tour without musicians. What it takes an hour to accomplish in words (and you may never reach!) can be conveyed in minutes through Swamiji’s music.

Tandava and Dambara are a dream team, able to sing and play almost anything in the repertoire on a moment’s notice. It is not always possible to predict in advance how the energy will unfold and their relaxation and skill made it possible to respond intuitively with just the right song or chant.

All the events are being posted on the YouTube channel and include not just the talking, but also the music.

Saturday afternoon five others of our group spoke. The three Americans -- Tandava, Dambara, and Atmajyoti -- and two core members here -- Kavita and Alan. The theme was “How I Found the Path.”

Over the years, I’ve heard many panels on this subject, but rarely have I heard such a moving collection of talks. It’s just an hour, already posted. You’ll enjoy hearing the stories.

On Saturday night of our retreat, Dambara and Tandava gave a one-hour musical program (video here). They started with the lighter, more humorous songs, gradually moving into the deeper, more inward ones.

At first, everyone sang along, laughing, clapping. By the end it was absolute stillness.

No matter how many times I hear this music, it never ceases to move me to my core. What an extraordinary channel Swamiji was for the power of God and Gurus.

We were blessed with cold, but clear weather, so after the music ended we silently moved outside where a big campfire was already burning.

About 30 of us made a close circle around the flames. Above our heads, no moon, just dark sky filled with blazing stars.

Together we chanted the Sanskrit mantras, poured ghee onto a campfire -- it flared up in a most dramatic way -- and tossed our grains of rice into the flames to burn up our karma through the power of divine love.

Glorious.

The next day, ceremonies continued. First the Purification.

You might think the Purification would not be well received by those not yet committed to our path. Not so. That ceremony touches something elemental in all of us. It confirms our inherent divinity. Promises to fulfill our longing for freedom. Tells us, “You are not alone. I, the Infinite Spirit, am always with you.”

Every time I have the privilege of offering that ceremony, especially to those who have rarely, or never seen it before, I marvel at Swamiji’s perfect intuition, providing just what is needed for the unfoldment of Master’s mission for generations to come.

Then we did Sunday service ending with The Festival of Light, followed by a Discipleship Initiation for five new disciples, plus a blessing for those who had taken it before.

Finally, the morning ending with the all-important Facebook Ceremony: photos in front of the altar! Master’s ray is spreading all over the planet, in so many countries and cultures. These moments in Eternity are shared with brothers and sisters around the world.

As we gathered for the pictures I told them that even though you haven’t met the devotees in Mexico, Croatia, Russia, or India, you already know them and they know you. We recognize each other as friends from other lives smiling now with the face of the present incarnation.

The joy of this tour is not only bringing Master’s teachings to truth-seeking souls, it is also doing it as part of this team. The effortless harmony of Ananda people together never ceases to amaze me. So much creativity, devotion, and joy.

My heart overflows with gratitude to Swamiji for drawing us together in Master’s ray.

AUM GURU

Much love,
Asha

P.S. You can find more photos from the trip here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hamilton, New Zealand #2

Dear Friends:

We have about the same number of programs on this tour that we had on the previous one (although the whole tour is only 3 rather than 6 weeks) but we aren’t going from city-to-city as we did last year. Everything is happening in the Hamilton area where Kavita can follow-up on the energy.

So the pace is more relaxed. Days off are really free, rather than spent packing and driving.

Yesterday we took a perfect New Zealand hike. Weather cooperated precisely. Cool in the morning, sunny when we got to the “top,” not a drop of precipitation.

We are always looking up the weather reports and contrasting them with the actual experience. “It can’t be raining,” we say, even though we are watching a torrential downpour. “The internet says ‘zero chance of precipitation!’”

We didn’t actually count, but one day I believe it went from clear and sunny -- including a rainbow -- to pouring rain at least a half-dozen times in the course of a few hours.

Yesterday we drove to Matamata to climb to the top of Wairere Falls. [We couldn’t help thinking, somewhat irreverently, if any of the senior SRF nuns retired to Matamata they could be Matamata Matas ☺ ] It was a “tramp through the bush” as it is called here. A well maintained trail, but still a rugged, uphill climb. And then, of course, down again.

Through deep forest, along a bubbling stream, then finally to the point where the placid -- surprisingly placid -- stream plunges over the cliff edge to become the hurtling torrent of Wairere Falls.

It was 5k round-trip, steep and rocky going up and then all had to be repeated on the downhill. Just a little more challenging than any of us -- especially the chronologically advanced semi-matas, i.e., Atmajyoti and Asha -- would have chosen in a perfect world. Although even Travis, our new Australian Kriyaban, admitted it pushed him, too.

Last year, all our hikes proved to be a little less difficult than anticipated. This made up for all of them.

It was worth every bit of effort, though and every moment of, “How am I ever going to get down off of this mountain?” Nature has its own rejuvenating power, especially in this country where it seems many of the devas have gathered in a last stand against the appalling indifference of so much of the world to their subtle messages of cooperation, harmony, and beauty.

The theme of almost all of our programs has been meditation, what it is, how to do it, and how to do it better. Kavita has found that this is what people are looking for these days.

My oft-repeated comment is that in the 40 plus years I’ve been teaching meditation there has been a global shift of interest. Not everybody meditates now -- too much to hope for in early Dwapara Yuga -- but many more people feel guilty about not meditating! Progress of a sort.

It has worked well, in that we have attracted a serious group of students. It has been a little challenging on my intuition at times, because even though they are serious, only a handful of them actually have an ongoing meditation practice. So topics like: “How to take your meditation deeper” have no obvious answer for the crowd I may be facing.

Still, by the grace of God, ideas come and it is a joy to share. Tandava is filming everything and posting it to YouTube, so you can decide for yourself how well we are doing!

It has been my privilege almost from the beginning of my spiritual journey to be in continuous contact with those just starting on the path.

This has been one of the greatest blessings of my life because it has kept always before me the miracle of the spiritual path. Seeing the gratitude in the eyes of those just beginning is a constant reminder never to forget what it means, after lifetimes of wandering in delusion, finally to find the way home.

It began for me in the 70s when I was working as Swamiji’s secretary. At that time he was the primary meeting point between the public and Ananda and the teachings of Master through him. I coordinated his appointments, which made me the go-between for many souls just coming onto the path.

It has been the same ever since. Traveling for Ananda, being on staff at the
Retreat, developing the Palo Alto community, now going to other countries. Everywhere explaining our line of Gurus, the practice of meditation, Ananda, what it means to be a devotee.

It is so touching to see how God draws people to Himself. There are as many variations on that theme as there are devotees. Each of us has a unique, individual relationship with God.

Over time, whether through returning to the same cities after intervals of time, or living as we have with one branch of Master’s family and developing his work together over years, we see in each other’s eyes an ever brighter flame of love and understanding of what it is to be a devotee.

When we used to travel to the Northwest in the early 80s, before our Ananda colonies were started there, I gave a great deal of thought to the program we would offer. There is a definite “curriculum” that devotees of this path would do well to learn. Meditation and Kriya are central, but there is so much more.

One of my favorite courses from that era I called rather grandly, “How the World Works and Why.” Although the details have faded somewhat over time, as I recall it was karma, reincarnation, the need for a guru, the power of Kriya, and perhaps a bit of the Yugas thrown in for good measure!

Inevitably I followed a trajectory in educating others about these teachings that mimicked my own learning curve. Master has to use the instruments at hand in the way they can be used.

In addition to the philosophy, techniques, and principles, I also tried to include as much as possible of what I call “the Ananda culture.” Always in my mind was the idea that we were looking for Master’s children, inviting them into the family, and praying that they would find in Ananda and this path the same profound joy and satisfaction it has given me and countless others. Informal time together is essential. Also serving together, sharing with others the blessings we have received.

Like every family, Ananda has its unique world view. An appreciation for P.G. Wodehouse, for example.

Even classic lines from favorite stories, like, “We will now sing the school song!” Utterly incomprehensible unless you know the particular story from which it is drawn. In case you don’t know, here it is:

Bertie Wooster, the good-hearted, but often inept hero of many of Wodehouse’s stories, finds himself as the keynote speaker for an assembly at a school for girls. Unaccustomed as he is to public speaking, and unnerved by the beady-eyed stares of the students, Bertie begins telling jokes of dubious moral quality. The iron-willed school director interrupts his speech before the juiciest lines can be delivered, by declaring emphatically, “We will now sing the school song!”

In his public reading of this story, Swamiji rarely got through that line without himself bursting into laughter. Ever thereafter whenever Ananda folks find themselves in a dicey situation, especially an embarrassing moment in front of an audience, someone will invariably suggest, “We will now sing the school song!” Naturally, that comment is met with bewildered stares by the “uninitiated.”

Admittedly, this is a rather trivial example, but it illustrates the importance of bringing people completely into the Ananda world. The caste system, the yugas, the chakras are other more important examples that often find their way into everyday conversation, frequently with a humorous twist. So much of our humor has behind it an understanding of, well, how the world works and why.

I remember Jyotish once telling us about a movie that was well-done, but not particularly worth seeing, as “The touching story of a sudra becoming a vaishya!” In other words, of a totally unmotivated person developing selfish interests. Good for the evolution of the hero, but hardly inspiring entertainment for a yogi.

Coming back to New Zealand, it is deeply touching to see -- not sudras becoming vaishyas -- but kshatriyas (self-motivated idealistic people) becoming Brahmins --deepening their attunement with God, Gurus, and dharma. Very moving.

Our core here is still small, but every person is highly motivated, which makes it a joy to serve.

We had a small discipleship initiation on Sunday. Like the Kriya earlier that week, there is a special grace in these intimate ceremonies. We gathered in front of the altar afterwards for the usual picture.

With Facebook connecting us around the world, how many such photos have we seen, especially in recent years, of Kriyabans and disciples in so many countries. The setting is the same each time. The Masters on the altar, the devotees gathered in front. Whether a handful or a roomful, the spirit is the same: joyful recognition of the simple, but momentous implications of the initiation that has just taken place.

We may not speak the language, or know the names of those whose faces we see. But in their eyes we see reflected our own gratitude to God for bringing us, too, whether recently or long ago, to that moment of profound gratitude.

Sister Gyanamata put it perfectly when she said to Master that she knew he came with a world-changing mission, but she also liked to think that he came just for her. And he did.

Remember Babaji saying, that the spirit of potential saints in countries round the world came “flood-like” to him? For this reason, this line of Gurus incarnated again.

To change the world, by changing hearts, one by one, starting with yours, and mine.

What joy.

In Master’s love,
Asha for Ananda New Zealand devotees

P.S. You can follow along with the ongoing photo album here, and the YouTube channel here. 


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hamilton, New Zealand #1

Dear Friends:

Arrived Friday morning, 5:30 a.m. on the overnight flight from San Francisco. The greatest hardship of the journey was my onscreen catalog of available movies didn’t work properly and I had to choose without knowing all the options.

My travel companions came two days earlier. I wanted to be at home for Swamiji’s Moksha Day, rather than caught somewhere near the international date line, so I left later.

The time difference now is only 5 hours, and Kavita’s house, where we all stay, is so much home now, that it hardly feels like travel.

There is, however, that unique feeling of New Zealand, which I came to know and love last fall -- relaxed, happy, and completely at home.

Dambara and Atmajyoti are returnees from last fall. Tandava is the “new guy” but his newbie status dissolved immediately and we are working as one harmonious team already. Having his fabulous musicality to inspire and accompany Dambara in songs and chanting is a treat for all. The two of them have great fun making music together and the rest of us are the happy beneficiaries.

In addition to Kavita, her husband Aroon, and teenage daughters Veda and Devya, a Canandian woman named Zeb is also living in the house. She had contacted Kavita looking for a work exchange, with a backpack full of just the talents that were needed -- photographer, writer, web-savvy marketeer, truth-seeker, and all around delightful person.

She arrived in time to help Kavita put together and publicize the program. Truly a godsend. We all bonded immediately. Today we were joined by a young Australian named Travis who will also be with us for the whole time.

This morning we had a Kriya initiation for him and for a core member here named Alan. There seems to be a special grace from Master for these small initiations, scheduled for the benefit of specific devotees. We did two of them last trip as well.

Last trip we traveled the length of the north island -- from Auckland to Wellington and met many fine souls. The greatest concentration of energy is with Kavita here in Hamilton, though.

Since our last visit she has been teaching meditation and yoga and building up magnetism from her spacious home on the river which she calls The Narrows Retreat. You can look up her website to see where we are presently ensconced.

This trip we are exclusively in Hamilton for two weeks, then on the third weekend we go back to Lake Taupo, a beautiful location, centrally located. Many people from other areas will join us there.

Just up the road from The Narrows Retreat is a conference facility called The Narrows Landing. You probably get the theme here: the Waikato River ... guess what? ... narrows right here!

The Narrows Landing is larger than Kavita’s home and has been an ideal setting for our weekend programs. At lunchtime, we walk from the Landings to the Retreat for the informality of being at home, then walk back to the conference center to continue the program. Perfect.

Kavita has found that the greatest interest now is in meditation, so we have made that our theme for the whole stay, exploring the subject from many directions over the whole series of programs. You can see the details at Ananda New Zealand.

For our first program on Saturday we had about 40 participants. Some were returnees from last visit; many were first-timers. Interestingly, even those who were coming for the first time were on the same wave-length as the returnees.

In other travels through the years, I’ve noticed that when I return to a place it isn’t only individuals who have progressed in the teachings, it is the whole place that has progressed. Even if you are talking to a different crowd, you can speak on a deeper level.

On Sunday we had the service, Festival, and Purification Ceremony. On Monday we did another 10-4pm day. Attendance for those days was closer to 20.

Everyone who came was focused and serious about spiritual life so we had a wonderful time together. Even though for many we were meeting for the first time, we felt like old friends.

It is a remarkable life we have. Our bonds of spiritual fellowship transcend all limiting conditions of country, culture, or personality. Soul-to-soul. That is the joy of friendship in God.

Sunday afternoon we went to the Theosophical Society. The subject was the chakras -- in 60 minutes!

From my point of view, every program I give is a demonstration of the power of desperate prayer: “Here we are, Lord, give me something helpful to say!”

The chakras, at the Theosophical Society of Hamilton, New Zealand, was yet one more proof of God’s response. It was energetic and entertaining, we sold quite a few books, and a couple of people came on Monday because of the program there.

Our host gave a moving testimonial about how much her life has been enriched in the 6 months since we were last there because of all that she has gained from online classes and reading Master’s teachings that she began because of our visit last fall.

We have met several people already who read Autobiography of a Yogi, even became deeply engaged with Master many, many years ago, but somehow let the connection lapse. Now, finding Ananda is opening that doorway again.

Another woman spoke to me of her Catholic upbringing and the love she had for Jesus, which was gradually covered over by disillusionment with the Church. Now her youthful devotion has been reawakened. A whole new life direction is opening.

What an honor to serve in this way.

Much love to all,
Asha for the Ananda New Zealand team

P.S. An on-going photo album of the trip can be found here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Bliss that Dispels All Fears

Dear Friends,

In The New Path, Swami Kriyananda describes how Mt. Washington was like a hotel when Master lived there – how people would check in and out, and how very few of them ever stayed.

It’s hard to fathom, isn’t it, how people could have the tremendous good karma to be with Yogananda, and not to be able to appreciate it enough to stay.

As Swamiji said, it wasn’t easy to live with a master. And it wasn’t because he was harsh, but because in his love for them, he wanted to remove everything that kept them separate from God.

Swamiji said that if you didn’t want Master to change you, he wouldn’t interfere. He would be kind and sweet and supportive, but he wouldn’t discipline you unless you’d decided that he had the only answer that would satisfy your soul.

We fear that the guru will take away the things we least want to give up. But he will never do that. What good would it do? If we haven’t accepted our need to change, no one can inspire us to want it.

Swamiji said that in Master’s presence, the force of light was enormous, and in the presence of that light a great deal of your self was suddenly revealed. For many people, the revelation was too painful, and they would hastily depart.

When we discover a fault or a weakness in ourselves, how can we handle the pain? It’s useless to say “How terrible I am! How hopeless I am!” Because it doesn’t help – it just glues us more firmly to our errors.

We have to realize that everything we cling to will eventually be taken away. We won’t get to save any of the parts of us that we cling to with tender affection.

That’s for religion, written with a small “r.” Religion says, “Be a nice person. You don’t have to be perfect (never mind what Jesus said). You can just continue to measure yourself by a basic, minimal standard where you’ll still look pretty good.”

On the spiritual path, we have to measure ourselves against Infinity. We have to wake up every day and realize “I’m not there yet,” and calmly and cheerfully keep going forward, a step at a time.

There are definite stages of awareness that we all go through. And there’s a stage where we’re making a spiritual effort and moving steadfastly toward God, but there’s still a great deal of temptation to look for a safe corner where we can hang out and be comfortable, at least for a while.

Over the years, David and I have done a bit of scuba diving. And one of the things you have to learn is that when you come up from a depth, you have to stop at l5 feet and hang out there for three or four minutes. You’ve been breathing compressed air, and you have to give your body time for various chemical reactions to take place, or you’ll get the bends, a dangerous and painful condition.

So you hang there for a while, neither rising or sinking, and you try to breathe in a comfortable manner. And it’s like the stage in our spiritual life where we don’t want to sink lower, but we aren’t ready to rise. So we adjust our consciousness until we have a kind of neutral buoyancy, and we hang out there.

It’s a mystery why we would want to do that. But, really, it’s because we have a false notion of where our happiness comes from.

In Swami Kriyananda’s later years, it was very interesting to see how, as his body grew old and debilitated, he was always using it to express higher levels of consciousness. It was extraordinary to see that frail body radiate such a magnificent power of bliss.

Master defined the ego as “the soul, identified with the body.” It’s a nice, neutral way to define the ego, so that we don’t see it as either positive or negative but simply a fact. The soul becomes identified with the body, and our sense of self becomes identified with the body. And that’s the reality that we have to deal with, and that we’re working to gradually transcend.

Swamiji describes how he was walking with Yogananda, and he was holding his arm to support him, because his body was infirm. At one point Master stumbled, and he explained, “I am in so many bodies, I forget which one I’m supposed to keep moving.”

What if you were so expanded in your consciousness that everybody’s reality was equal to your own? Swamiji talked about how people who aren’t spiritually evolved misunderstand the saints. They decide that the saints must be doing it all with will power, the way an unevolved person would try to do. “Hm, the saints are able to love people because they have a lot of will power, and they can suppress their natural selfishness.”

But religion doesn’t understand that the negative qualities in us can be wholly transcended, as we discover God’s desire-quenching bliss and love and become absorbed in it.

It’s wonderful to meditate and project yourself into a completely different reality, identifying another person’s needs as your own and praying for their healing and freedom. Because that’s the standard by which we should judge our progress on the spiritual path.

How would I feel about this person with whom I’m angry, if I could know their reality as much as my own? What would it be like to have no fear? To have no fear of embarrassment, no fear of making a mistake, no fear of exposing your ignorance, no fear of physical pain, no fear of being rejected, no fear of being afraid?

It’s wonderful to meditate on how the masters have found the bliss that dispels all fear. As we pass through the stages of our long journey back to God, let us meditate on the bliss of the masters, and how that bliss and love contains all of the fulfillment we’ve ever been seeking.

Asha

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let's Be Real with God

One of the monks in Yogananda’s ashram became emotional in his fervor. In the midst of group chanting he would cry out and roll on the ground, calling to God.

Some of the monks were put off by this. But when mentioned it to Yogananda, he said, “Ah, if only you all had that kind of fervor!”

We need to understand what’s important to God. We may have our own ideas of what the spiritual life is about. But God doesn’t care about our ideas. Nor does He care about the feelings, ideas, and images we have about ourselves – including the self-image we try to project to the world around us.

He accepts us exactly as we are. And what we are is a vibration that we’ve generated by our consciousness. Our consciousness shapes our actions, thoughts, feelings, and what we feel is important in our lives.

A disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, the great Bengali saint of the 19th century, brought a group of dancers, singers, and actors to visit the master at the ashram. In India, entertainers were considered of low caste, but Ramakrishna embraced them and gave them his heart.

After they left, some of his more narrow-minded disciples wondered aloud why the guru would welcome such low-class people.

The great yogi said, “The God they are worshipping now is dance and music.” Then he added blissfully, “Ah, but they know how to worship!”

This is what pleases God. It isn’t the careful, well-organized way we present our self to the world. It’s when we give our whole heart.

Now, this certainly is not an age when we can live extreme lives of pure renunciation and devotion. I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the complexity of the modern world. I look around my house and the thought comes insistently: “How can I simplify?

“How can I keep less food in the fridge? How can I clear out my cabinets? How can I spend less time cooking meals?” Faced with the endless stream of emails, phone calls, and material objects in our lives, the aspiring heart rebels. The mind seeks to escape – “I can be a better devotee if I have less to do – I would love God so much more if someone would do all the cooking, and if I didn’t get so many emails.”

It’s easy to be distracted by all the irons in the fire. And the temptation is to mentally put those things in a separate box from our spiritual life.

But how can we imagine that the conditions we’ve created for ourselves are completely outside of the will of God?

Some years ago, I got into a difficult situation with friends. I saw that they wouldn’t be able to escape the suffering they were going through, and I was distraught, weeping for their pain. And because I couldn’t do anything about it, finally the thought entered my mind, “Do you think this could be happening outside of God’s will?”

Do you think that the entirety of God’s creation is a manifestation of his satchidananda – His ever-conscious, ever-new bliss – except for this little square where you’re standing? Is this little piece of the cosmic structure a forgotten hole that isn’t satchidananda – not God?”

Of course not! So the natural conclusion is, “Why am I rebelling? Why am I sad that things are this way? If this is where God has placed me, and what He’s asking of me, what kind of a response is rebellion?”

It’s not so dissimilar from when you give a child a doll and she cries, “This is purple! I wanted the pink one!”

Swamiji’s father returned from a business trip and gave him and his brother each a little toy boat. And they immediately began to argue about whose boat was best.

The father said, “Oh, I made a mistake,” and he switched the boats. And of course they immediately began to argue again.

There’s a natural, uncanny inclination to rebel against our circumstances. Because, let’s face it, it isn’t hard to imagine how almost any circumstance could be better.

But it isn’t the answer. “I’d be a lot better person if my circumstances were different. I’d have more time to love God if someone would do the cooking.”

A classic spiritual question is whether we have free will. Yogananda answered it very simply: “We have one choice: to think of God, or not to think of Him.”

Let us assume it’s true. And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Divine Mother is every bit as present when we’re cleaning the house, driving the children to school, shopping for groceries, and cooking.

How could God not be there? How could anything be outside of God?

We need to turn ourselves within and see if we are in tune with the divine energy continually expressing through us. Or if we’ve allowed ourselves to sink into dullness, full of grumbling, while we wait for our problems to be magically taken away so that we can pursue our “real” spiritual life.

Swami said, “We spend so much of our life waiting to be rescued from the conditions we’re in – imagining that something will come and rescue us from them.”

We imagine that death will be the final rescue. “At least I’ll be released from the struggle for a while.”

I read about a man who worked with people with terminal illnesses. In his workshops, he had them make two lists.

First he had them list everything they would miss if they died – the marriage of their children, the birth of grandchildren, caring for their elderly parents, and so on.

Then he had them list everything they would be happy to leave behind because they wouldn’t have to face it anymore. And, of course, we all have our lists, conscious or subconscious.

“Hurrah! I’ll no longer have to cook three meals a day.”

The desire to be rescued is an expression of our soul’s desire to be healed of all suffering and liberated in God’s bliss. But if our consciousness is omnipresent, if our power is limitless, and if there’s really no difference between ourselves and all creation, then if there’s anything we aren’t fully embracing in this life – to that extent, we’re separating ourselves from God.

I remember a time when I was frightened about something I had to do. I prayed for Divine Mother’s comfort, and I was very puzzled when She didn’t send it.

I prayed, “Why aren’t you comforting me?” And then a picture flashed in my mind of someone who had passed through my life, and to whom I hadn’t given very much compassion.

It was a person who had struggled in his life, and I didn’t feel much affinity with him. I thought it would be okay if I turned my heart in other directions. And now I heard Divine Mother say, “If you close your heart to any of My children, how can I open My heart to you?”

I was urging a friend to be more conscientious in her attitude toward her work. I felt that I’d earned a right to speak somewhat sternly, because I’d been trying to get her to understand this point for years. But she kept giving excuses, one after another. We were laughing, because we were friends. But I kept escalating and she kept rejecting, excuse after excuse.

Finally, she said, “I’m scared when I do that.”

I said, “Oh, now you’re telling the truth. Let’s work with what’s true.”

It isn’t our weaknesses that God objects to. It’s our fear of opening ourselves to Him. How can we help but be imperfect? We’ve lived many lives, and this is as far as we’ve gotten. And God can’t hold us responsible for where we are, or for not doing more.

I said to someone, “If a child is four and behaves like a four-year old, will you be furious with him? What can he do? He’s four. Soon he’ll be six, then nine. And if he’s nine and behaves like a four-year-old, you can say, ‘You’re too old for this. You’re a big boy now.’ But when he’s four, you can’t say ‘Be a teenager.’ It’s impossible.”

And here we are, at whatever spiritual age we’ve attained, and we are exactly what we are. And Divine Mother is extremely sympathetic when we don’t wait to be rescued, and when we don’t hand Her a long list of reasons why we can’t do better. And She is instantly sympathetic when we have the courage to say, “Divine Mother, I’m scared. This frightens me.” Then you find that She says, “Oh, you’re frightened. Take my hand and I’ll help you get through it.”

That’s the consciousness we want to have. Yogananda isn’t with us. Even Swami Kriyananda is no longer with us, and so it’s more important than ever to know how to invite their presence.

When Swami died, I said, “The only grownup has left the planet. We’re here by ourselves now, and we need to band together to take care of ourselves. Like little children when they’re orphaned, we’ll have to learn to manage.”

The spirit and divine presence of the masters is with us, but not when we close our hearts, because then they simply can’t get in.

God bless you.
Asha
blueline

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