Some thoughts on love.

This world is nothing but a school of love;
our relationships with our husband or wife,
with our children and parents, with our friends
and relatives are the university
in which we are meant to learn
what love and devotion truly are.

Baba Muktananda

Baba with his cook Chandra

I have thought about love a lot. Before the Guru I could never settle on a relationship. I could not see myself ‘married with children’. But, what are our options if that is not our calling? After meeting the Guru I experienced spiritual love–love of God, Self and Guru. This was the love for which I had been yearning.

As I did my sadhana I learned that there are two kinds of love, personal or impersonal. In personal love we grow attached and protective of those we love. There is love of husband, wife or partner, intense and possessive, beginning in Eros, and too often burning out in the ashes of spent passion.  There is love of family: mother, father, brother, and sister—full of the complex emotions of dependence and freedom, values, indifference, judgment and all the stuff of family life. Love of children is attached and devotional, complex also in its wish for perfect parenting and fear of loss and failure. Love of career is dramatised by ego needs and clashes with colleagues, the drive for success and recognition. Love of the arts demands creative expression and flirts with spirituality. Love of country is dedication and service to a common goal. Let us not forget the love of pets—pure and unconditional—where in exchange for food and shelter they love us with total devotion.

Aren’t we all driven by the search for love and intimacy, however form that takes? Don’t we try to become magnets for the good and repel the bad? Especially in relationships. Often we find ourselves on a merry-go-round, repeating a pattern of situations that go wrong. We wonder, ‘How did I get here again?’ Without examining our inner world, we get stuck in an ever-churning circle of pleasure and pain.

Personal love is no guarantee of a successful marriage or happiness. Every relationship eventually falls from the Garden of Eden as reality takes hold. The blinders come off and individuality emerges as values, likes and dislikes, preferences and interests are revealed. One person wants a home in the suburbs; the other wants a cottage in the country. One wants children, the other does not. One aspires to riches and fame, and the other wants a quiet life.  One wants to be a nuclear physicist and the other a gardener. When what one wants clashes with the other, the relationship becomes a battleground.

I once wrote Baba Muktananda about love and he wrote back saying, ‘you should learn to love universally not specifically. Give your love to everyone.’

I have strived to attain the goal of his teaching to me, love universally. It is not easy when desire to be loved arises. To feel loved, to know love and to be loved is a spiritual and personal struggle everyone faces.

c-s-lewis-quote-on-heavenCS Lewis defined divine love as: Affection, friendship and Eros. He described Eros as love in the sense of ‘being in love’. This is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus, and discusses sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He identifies Eros as ‘indifferent’. I think indifference in this case means it can break social norms without a thought to the hurt it may cause when acted upon. Eros is antinomium–it does not consider consequences.

In keeping with his warning that ‘love begins to be a demon the moment [it] begins to be a god’, he cautions against the danger of elevating Eros to the status of a god or the obsessive search for that fleeting experience.

Blind passion has been the cause of some of history’s most tragic moments. In Greek mythology Helen of Troy and her lover Paris triggered the Trojan wars when they lost all sense of the political implications. Too often hurtful unintended consequences is the fruit of such love. Another true story is that of Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen, and Antony, a married Roman general. Their relationship ultimately sparked a war that led to both of them committing suicide – Cleopatra by snake bite – when they realised they would lose.

Layla and Majnu in the palace.

Baba Muktananda used to tell a story inspired by an Arab legend, on the romantic poem Layla, the daughter of a king, and Majnu an artist. It is a tragic tale about unattainable love. Layla and Majnu fall in love while at school. Their love is observed and they are soon prevented from seeing one another. In misery, Majnu banishes himself to the desert to live among and be consoled by animals. He neglects to eat and becomes emaciat

An eccentric poet, Majnu becomes known as a madman.

Majnu writes:

I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the walls that has enraptured my heart
But of the One who dwells within them.

He befriends an elderly Bedouin who promises to win him Layla’s hand through warfare. Layla’s tribe is defeated, but her father continues to refuse her marriage to Majnu because of his mad behaviour, and she is married to another. After the death of Layla’s husband, the old Bedouin facilitates a meeting between Layla and Majnu, but they are never fully reconciled in life. Upon death, they are buried side by side.

The story is often interpreted as an allegory of the soul’s yearning to be united with the divine.

Baba’s ending was different. Layla’s father was a king. When the king refused to give Layla to Majnu, he wandered the streets of the kingdom crying out Layla’s name. Other men joined in hoping to attract the attention of the king. The king, worn down by these pleas, issued a proclamation that he would behead anyone who cried her name in the streets. Immediately, the fake Majnu’s stopped their wailing and only the real Majnu was left. One ending of the story says that the king, finally moved by Majnu’s sincerity,  acquiesced and joined them in marriage.

Agape or Charity

Many men and women women fall prey to a desire for love in the hope of establishing a satisfying relationship, only to discover intoxication clouded common sense.

In Hinduism Eros can be inspiration to attain God-consciousness or unconditional love. It is called bhakti and is personified in the stories of Krishna (the God of love) and the Gopis, the charming milkmaids of Vrindavan. The Gopis, were the playmates of Krishna’s youth and became attached to his physical form. They had to learn to redirect their devotion from his form to the formless, thus attaining the true purpose of their relationship with him. They eventually learn to see him everywhere and in everything. His departure and eventual marriage to the Goddess Lakshmi forced them to move from personal love to unconditional love.

Unconditional love demands that we renounce every selfish motive, and desire. We must give up self-concern, ‘I am not getting what I want. I want more. I want attention. I want recognition. I want this and I want that.’ Only when we understand that true love is serving the beloved by giving love, and not by striving to take love.

Discipleship is perhaps the most powerful love. It has some elements of the personal but it is grounded in the divine. The chemistry between Guru/disciple is unique and cannot be replicated in personal relationships without Shaktipat, the awakening of the inner energy. It is the Shakti that keeps love flowing. It is the Shakti that burns away hurt. It is the Shakti that restores love when disappointment arises. It is the Shakti that heals grief. It is the Shakti that is love.

Ganeshpuri 2019

Ganeshpuri 2019

To perform arati to the Guru is to perform the noblest sacrifice, the highest worship and the deepest meditation. To perform arati to the Guru is to also perform honour and worship to your own Self.

No matter what language we sing in, the prayer says, ‘O Lord, kindle my flame from your shining flame. If my lamp is not kindled within me, I will remain plunged in inner darkness. Only when you have kindled my lamp will this darkness go. O Lord, kindle my lamp.’

Baba Muktananda

I was excited for weeks before this trip to Ganeshpuri. I had a sense this Retreat would be special. And, indeed it was. As we head off from the airport we fight our way through traffic.

Mumbai is expanding out towards this tiny village. Soon it seems, Ganeshpuri may become another suburb as this sprawling city swallows the surrounding countryside.

Hardly any plastic bags!!

The Prime Minister, Modi, has banned plastic bags from use in most shops. Hence, the smog and smoke is significantly less. I can breathe easier and am gratified by Modi’s intention to reduce pollution in India. It can’t be easy.

One of my first jobs as a young woman was to help establish one of the first Recycling Centres in Vancouver. But my life was soon taken over by the Guru and saving the planet took a back seat. Let’s hope it is not too late. Guruji always tells me, ‘have faith. Consciousness will find a solution for the ailing planet.’

As we entered the village there was a palpable magic in the air. The villagers: the temple priests, the shopkeepers, the Ammas, and the puppy dogs, all showered their devotion and love on Guruji and everyone with him. Whatever blocks might have appeared, did not.

The village has become Baba’s Ashram. The same Shakti that flowed into me on my first trip in 1978 now flows here. There is no outer world. There is only my inner world, brimming, overflowing with Guru’s grace. Baba Muktananda and Bhagavan Nityananda are present in every shop, on every street corner, in every Chai stall, in every breath and meditation.

The days were filled with activities: pujas, walks to the Ganesh Temple and various samadhi shrines, Satsang, darshan, Guru Gita, meditation, Shiva Process, and chilling out.

Near the end of the Retreat, Gulzar Naza and his Sufi Qawwali group rocked out with their beautiful chants and there were also special dosa cooks from Mumbai whose magic smells filled the air.

One afternoon Prasad, the temple priest, came for Guruji’s darshan. He asked Guruji, ‘Do you love Bhagavan?’ Guruji replied, ‘love is not quite the word. Do you love the air you breathe? Without it you can’t live. That is how I feel about Bhagavan.’

And, the Guru was the ‘air I breathe’.

I was in ecstasy the whole time and finding words to describe that joy is almost impossible. Without inner angst, finding something to say except, ‘I was happy,’ is perhaps less interesting than overcoming difficulty. But truthfully, there was no suffering. And, strangely enough, since September of last year, suffering has become a distant memory. I am the happiest that I have ever been. I have been fortunate to have had much bliss in my life. But this new happiness is steady, an undercurrent of joy that is constant. I attribute this to the tapasya of a lifetime. Of course, it is probable that difficulty will return at some point. But, for now I am basking in this boon from the Guru.

Doing the Guru’s work is a great joy and a path to stay connected to the Shakti. At some point in sadhana we may feel a pull to commit to share what we have learned with others. There can be a moment when we are called to give ourselves more fully to the teachings, the Guru and the Lineage. Guruji initiated three sanyasis—Atmaram and Kashi from Ann Arbor, who are now Swami Atmananda and Swami Lalitananda. Also, Ram Das became Swami Govindananda. 

He also gave ‘Lineage Initation’ to Kumari who is now Yogini Rabia; Saraswati who is now Yogini Saraswati and Oya (from Byron Bay) who is now Oya Chaitanya. And also, Jimmy Nataraj from Chicago USA, who is now Nataraj Chaitanya.

Swamis Premananda (waving the tray), Shivananda, Durgananda, Bhaktananda,
Yogini Rabia, Turiyananda, Atmananda, Guruji, Nataraj Chaitanya,
Gargiji, Yogini Saraswati, Oya Chaitanya, Swami Lalitananda, Devi Ma, Vani Ma, Govindananda, Yogi Shree, Paramananda, and Lilavati

‘The initiation is about moving from consumer to custodian,’ said Guruji. He meant that when we take this initiation into the lineage, our attention moves from self-concern to serving others. It means that we are always available to do the Guru’s work of sharing the teaching and serving others.

We had many first timers on this trip and watching them embrace the Shakti and feel Bhagavan’s grace was exhilarating. At the end of the trip we had a sharing session:

Oya Chaitanya: had many profound experiences, but emphasised that ‘he did not have to try to meditate, meditation was effortless.’

Ben (Bholenath): I never ever thought that inner peace was possible for me.

Karuna: It’s close to midnight in Maharashtra. I’m sitting on the floor in our little shared room, wrapped in my new Kashmiri blanket, with Guru Turtle sitting in my lap and Bhagawan Nityananda watching over me from the photo.. What a magical, magical night. I feel so alive and full of love, my heart simply cannot contain it. Krishna Das is singing Hara Mahadev, my hands are covered in intricate mehndi designs, and Oh my dear God, I really am in India.

Tonight is the last night, and it seems simply impossible to spend it sleeping, but abishek starts at 4:30 in the morning, so it’s time to curl up in bed. I will be dreaming about India, her magic, her Gurus, her Great Beings who, out of infinite compassion, created paths for us to reach our true inner Self, the radiant, boundless core of our being that is pure Love, pure light, and nothing but God.

It is there, I have seen it. I am taking away in my heart the beautiful people who have shared these two weeks with me, laughed with me, cried with me, inspired me, and reminded me what it means – and how it feels – to be truly and completely alive. I will be coming back to Mother India, because how could I not come back? This moment always existed, I was always coming to this place to find my path again and to remember who I am.

Thank you Bhagawan, thank you Guruji, thank you Devi Ma. Thank you all. Thank you, Leo!

Our next trip to Ganeshpuri will be in 2021. Guruji and many of his guru brothers and sisters will be celebrating their Golden Jubilee: 50 years with Baba Muktananda. That will be one magnificent trip.

Start saving your rupees and join us.