Jay Nityanand!

Jay Nityanand!

Just as camphor is consumed by the flames of fire,
so also, the mind must be consumed by soul-fire.
Bhagavan Nityananda

It’s after 10:00pm before Anjali and I are on our way to Ganeshpuri. Moti, Yusuf and Vinayak, Rosy’s husband, (they own a B&B on the main street) met us at the airport after an easy flight and too much to eat.

Vinayak drives to Ganeshpuri at a speeding pace, with high beams blaring, a new night signal, ‘move over, I want to pass’. There is less horn and more blinking. Oncoming traffic also signals with high beams. We are blinded by the flashing as a river of cars, four lanes across, head into Mumbai.

We make great time and after an hour we turn onto the road to Ganeshpuri. Worst road in the valley, constantly needing repair. What was repaired a while ago has now been washed away in the monsoon. The road is in constant dispute between SYDA and the villagers, so the villagers say. Vinayak slows to a tortoise pace. (But good news! The road is now under a partial repair.)

I feel a sigh of relief as we near Bhagavan’s Samadhi shrine. Bright colourful lights are decorating every corner of Kailas and the temple. Green, orange, blue shimmer together in a kaleidoscope of vibrancy. Ganeshpuri is alive with Shakti.

We are staying at Kothavala. The atmosphere is beautiful, the food delicious and it is close to the temple. The natural hot spring baths are a luxury. Rarely does the clamour of village life reach here. It is meditative and restorative. The gardens are a haven for Satsang when the big group comes. But now, even though it is 12.30am, Anu, our host, greets us with a hug and a garland. This is our Ganeshpuri home.

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Anjali and I at the Ganesh temple on the hill above the village.

I woke up early on my first morning and went to the temple. The new blond curtains were still closed. Apparently Bhagavan needed some repair and is being lovingly restored. Some say that the fertilizer from the garlands has caused a little erosion and tiny holes on his body. Others say it was from the milk, honey and sugar used for the pujas. Nonetheless, restoration was necessary. The priests tell me that Bhagavan will be revealed in a few hours.

Later Anjali and I are walking down the main road when we see Maharaj, Swami Nityananda coming toward us. He greets us with a lot of love and humour. We briefly chat and go with him as he heads for the temple. We walk up the back steps. Maharaj walks through the silver gate into the Samadhi. We sit down just behind.

A yagna, a fire ceremony with many priests, a dancing saptah, and other festivities have been going on all week. The unveiling of Bhagavan includes a pranapratishta, an enlivening ceremony. The Brahmins chant mantras that breathe life into Bhagavan, just in case he has lost some during the restoration. To me the Shakti in the temple is as strong as it always has been.

We chant for a while and then Bhagavan is revealed. It is a surprise. His body is now dark brown, perhaps it is more like he was when he was in his body.  But under the orange lights he glows with a beautiful reddish hue. The gold has been relegated to the past. I imagine Bhagavan is happier without the metal covering him. I like this new image. More the avadhut, and less the sultan. He seems more intimate, warmer, friendlier and approachable.

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Bhagavan in all his new glory (with Prasadji in the background).

An exquisite happiness descends in me. It is not the happiness of a desire being fulfilled or a task accomplished or for some other mundane reason. In this moment I am fulfilled, joyful, content, peaceful and happy. I wish the whole world could share in the experience of Bhagavan’s Shakti. What a blessing to have found this yoga! What a blessing to have the Guru! What a blessing to be sitting here now in his presence communing with God’s grace!

I wish that his power to awaken spreads around the world. I wish everyone could do his divine work. I wish that his blessings find all who are grieving and uplift them. I wish that he turns everyone to God and all suffering ends.

The chanting continued for about an hour and ended with Sri Kanth (a temple priest) and Swami Nityananda, waving lights to the Nityananda Arati. Then we were ushered into the Samadhi and allowed to take darshan. We are not allowed to touch Bhagavan, but we can see his smiling radiance as we pass and do a standing pranam.

 

Anjali and I were not supposed to be here for the enlivening. We were meant to be in Varanasi for a few days before coming to Ganeshpuri. Oddly, the dates for our accommodation did not work out, so here we are. We found ourselves in the middle of this amazing ceremony with a front row view, while hundreds are outside waiting for a mere glimpse. I am grateful for the blessings moving within me.

Guruji is not with us on this trip. Next year we will be coming back sometime in January with a big group. The villagers ask about him, send him love and acknowledge the impact he has had on the village since we first began making these trips. They miss him and are eager to have his Darshan. Anjali and I make sure to give him daily telephone reports of village life, people’s greetings and events. These conversations add a lot of joy to our visit.

Guruji has an intuitive sensitivity to the pulse of the village and its people. He is a genius at making relationship with everyone and sustaining relationship. These relationships are genuine, spiritual and loving. Although some began in the act of commerce, over the years they have deepened. Ganeshpuri has become our second ashram and the villagers our spiritual family.

Gurudev Siddha Peeth, Baba’s ashram, is abuzz with activity. Not only is there a retreat going on, but I have heard that there is painting, cleaning and a general upgrade. When we get to Guru Gita on Sunday morning I see that Baba’s perch is now a beautiful polished white marble. The courtyard is peaceful and I remember that this was my favourite place to sit with Baba.

As I walk through the village bits of gossip reach my ears. A rumour is whispered that Gurumayi will visit in March (the gossip says this every year) and that she may open the doors of the ashram for longer periods. I notice that her devotees are in the shops, smiling and making contact. This is new. Usually they keep to themselves and are unlikely to say hello. But the next day I find three on my doorstep waiting to meet me.

After introductions, two are from Switzerland, and one from Germany, they ask how I met Baba. I tell my story. They tell how they met Gurumayi. Their devotion is contagious and I feel affection toward her. In Baba’s day, I felt close to her, admired her and loved her. Her devotion to Baba was inspirational. Some painful things happened and those feelings faded into the background as a subtle distrust overshadowed them. Love was not lost, just put on the back burner. Now it glimmers as a flickering flame of possibility.

One of my guests mentions that Gurumayi’s New Year’s message for 2018 was “Satsang”. They tell me that she has asked her devotees to be in Satsang wherever they find themselves. It seems that meeting me is part of their mission to fulfil her wish. I am pleased. We have loving Satsang as we speak about the Guru and at the end of our shares they leave. I am left with a feeling of hope that somehow reconciliation between all of the Siddha families could happen.

After they leave I go to the temple to meditate. As I become familiar with the new Bhagavan it feels as though this could be the beginning of a new era. Bhagavan is dressed simply with only a few flowers and decorative puja items. Gone is the pomp of his glory as emperor. Now he is more the simple sadhu. The great yogi who arrived in Ganeshpuri with nothing but a loin cloth has re-emerged.

The Shakti pours out of him as usual, and he smiles at me as I sit with him. Of course, if anyone can dissolve separation and restore oneness, Bhagavan can. Maybe this era will include a coming together of all of Baba’s devotees and disciples. For everyone to meet under the umbrella of Baba’s grace would be a miracle of love.

Why I Came Back to Australia

An associate professor in Industrial and Systems engineering at Wayne State University in Michigan, Rajendra has also dedicated his life to yoga. However, recently he has come full circle as a yogi and disciple. He describes the deepening of his understanding of the path with intelligence and humor.

The Beginning

I first met Swamiji in the Spring of 1974 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was in my Senior year at the University of Michigan. I would walk across the “Diag” to get to my classes. One morning as I was approaching the Engineering “Arch” at the start of the Diag, I saw this skinny guy sitting by himself at a folding table. He was sitting there, quiet, smiling, alert, while the students walked passed him. I didn’t see anyone stop. When I got close, I saw he had some flyers about a Guru, Swami Muktananda, coming to town. So I stopped to chat for a bit. His eyes were dark, almost black and sparkled. I had heard through the grapevine that Swami Muktananda was coming, but I had not met any of his people.

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University of Michigan ‘Diag’.

But what really struck me was that he looked happy. Not just contented, but happy, just sitting there. I thought, “How can he be happy doing this? He must be bored out of his mind. What a thankless job!”

The next day I ran into him again, this time he was set up in front of the Bagel Factory a couple of blocks away. We talked some more. He said they were setting up an Ashram in Ann Arbor. He invited me to come by, help get the place ready, and maybe do some chanting. I said maybe I would, and I did.

But that is not the story I want to tell. The story I want to tell is about how 45 years later I came to understand why he was happy, its place in my Yoga journey, and what it means to me now.

Back to the beginning. I had practiced Hatha yoga for a few years. I had a sense that there was something more, having read accounts of odd adventures with yogis in India, but didn’t know how to touch it. Then I had the great good fortune to meet a true Satguru.

I experienced grace, touched through the eyes in sustained Darshan. I took Yoga initiation. I thought “I am only 18. If it starts out like this, what is the rest of my life going to be like?” The thought came to me that I would have sadhana for some years, then live an ordinary life, then in a later stage of life, would have the opportunity for sadhana again.

I was with him for two days. Then I did something that made me angry and ashamed. The next time we met, he looked at me, and I turned my head away. Like that, snap, the feeling of connection was gone, and I did not have his darshan again. A year or so later, he took Mahasamadhi (passed away). That was over 45 years ago.

Meeting Kirpal Singh Maharaj is one of the great memories of my life. Turning my head away is the most painful. I refused to accept that the connection was lost. I did ferocious meditation practice, but the sense of intimate connection was gone.

The Ann Arbor Ashram

A year or two after that, I heard that Swami Muktananda was going to come to Ann Arbor as part of his world tour. I had heard crazy stories about him from other yogi-wanna-bees. Some of them had been with Rudi (Swami Rudrananda, a disciple of Baba’s) in New York. I had no doubt that this might be another Great Being.

A few weeks later, I met Swamiji, on the Diag. And met him again the next day in front of the Bagel Factory. It turned out Baba had told him to start an ashram in Ann Arbor, and have it ready for his visit in September. This was to be Baba’s first ashram in America. And, lo and behold, the ashram was going to be just a couple of blocks from the place I was renting.

I started going over to help get the place ready, along with a bunch of other people. We chanted in the evenings. We all felt a bow-wave of something coming.

Finally the big day came. Baba was going to arrive. The meditation hall was packed. Swamiji was drumming and we were chanting with great enthusiasm. Hours went by (apparently the plane was delayed – what a grace). Swamiji kept picking up the energy. Everyone found their deepest reserves of joy, and then found more. I don’t have the words to describe it.

Finally Baba arrived. He stayed at the Ann Arbor ashram for about two weeks, then left for New York. To say that people were having supreme meditation experiences would be an understatement. I certainly was.

But I was very conflicted. How could I have had the connection I had with Kirpal Singh Maharaj, and dedicated myself to his practice, but also experience such consistent and intense Shakti with Baba? Kirpal Singh was gone and my feeling of connection was gone. Baba was here. And Baba was Baba. Who was my Guru? How could I accept one without denying the other? I had rejected Kirpal Singh once, and wasn’t going to do it again. But how could anyone deny Baba?

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Siddha Yoga Dham Ashram, Ann Arbor 1975

In the Fall after the Arcadia month-long retreat, I moved to Minnesota and began graduate school. One day in meditation, I saw Baba in front of me. I blurted out, “Babaji, let me live in your ashram!” – meaning the Ann Arbor ashram. When I realized what I had done, I thought, “Oh no! I better do this before it gets done to me.”

At the end of the semester, I came back to Ann Arbor to the ashram. Swamiji asked, “How long will you be staying?” I said, “As long as I am welcome.” And that was that – ashram life punctuated by running across the country and across the ocean to be with Baba.

Life as a Householder

If this were an old-fashioned movie, the hands on the clock would start spinning really fast, and the pages would blow off the calendar right about now.

I finished graduate school in 1978, moved out of the ashram, got a job, got divorced, had a career, got married again, changed jobs, had two kids, founded and ran a company, raised kids, retired, became a university professor, finished raising kids. I stayed in touch with Swamiji. My enthusiasm for Yoga was like the moon: sometimes here, sometimes not.

It has been almost 40 years since I moved out of the Ann Arbor ashram. After forty years in the desert, I’m still welcome. How about that?

Return To Yoga

When I turned 60 – that was four years ago – a great renewed interest in Yoga woke up in me. I practiced techniques to become sensitive to the movements of Kundalini. I bent my mind to subtleties of Jnana Yoga. I brought my background in neuropsychology and evolutionary biology bear on Self-Inquiry. It all worked, just like the instruction manual said it would.

But it was as dry as dust. It was ashes in my mouth. I thought, “ever since I was a child, I have held the vision of Yoga as the crown of life, and is this all there is?”

I had been emailing Swamiji as this sadhana unfolded. I asked, “where is the joy? Where is the heartbeat of Ananda (bliss)? Why were you so damn happy on that corner of the Diag doing that shitty boring job?”

He wrote me back saying simply, “For me, I found bliss in devotion to Baba.”

I had to wrestle with this. It was a very difficult meditation.

I realized I had no joy because I had no devotion. Because I had no devotion, I had no Guru, and because I had no Guru, I had no devotion. I had been rejecting the Guru. I had turned away from Kirpal Singh, much as I wanted to embrace him. I was unable to embrace Baba because I was conflicted around Kirpal Singh. I did not accept Shankarananda because he was a friend. I thought I was a pretty damn good yogi even before I met him. And, how could anyone other than Baba be a Guru in his presence?

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Rajendra in the land down under.

I came back to the old questions, “how do you recognize your Guru?” and “what is the Guru, anyway?” I applied myself to these questions. I immersed myself in this meditation. And I emerged with, for me, an answer.

For me, the Guru is the connection to Baba and the Siddha Lineage, a personal connection to the living Guru Lineage. I saw that Swami Shankarananda was, has been, and is, my connection to Baba and the Siddha Lineage. I saw that even when Baba was alive, Shankarananda was my connection to Baba. Swamiji remains my connection to Baba and the Siddha Lineage.

This was not an easy meditation. It took a lot more than intellectual consideration. I had to embrace it all the way, or else be back to rejecting. No other choices. No halfway measures. At length, I dove in. I embraced it. I asked Swamiji to let me put his feet on my head. This took a lot of surrender. It was not easy for me.

I felt I needed to follow through in person, not just in mind. The ‘ask’ was not about grace. That had already been freely given. The ‘ask’ was something I had to do to ‘seal the deal’ within myself.

When I opened to the Guru realization, my heart opened. Not just a crack. It opened a whole lot. Baba spoke to me. He said “What you get from Shankarananda, you get from me. What you give to Shankarananda, you give to me.”

Baba said, “This is ‘right understanding’. Practice this Yoga.”

This is why I came to the opposite side of the earth, to a land down under.