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.


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.


Much love,

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.