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.
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.
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?
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?
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.