Unfold The Inner Shakti

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Zen Garden in the front of the Ashram.

This morning in the shower I picked up a little wood bug that was struggling on its back to roll over. Many small creatures find their way into my bathroom and I try to save them. I don’t like to see them or anything suffer. When given a choice to kill defenceless creatures or save them, I will try to save them even if some are resistant.

I fed the dogs, sat down and looked out over my courtyard. As I glanced around I realised there are many thriving plants I had saved from death’s door. ‘What is this’, I asked myself. Do I have some kind of saviour complex? If I do it is not like Mother Teresa. I would never go to Calcutta and pick up lepers off the street. I might imagine doing it. That is not my purpose or way of serving but I am grateful to those who do it.

I love to watch people, animals, flowers grow and flourish. To grow inwardly and outwardly is to expand the Shakti. I hate to see things wither and dry up. The garden in the Ashram was a wasteland when we bought it. I have taken great pleasure, along with a whole team of people, turning it into a place of beauty and peace.

This morning a plumber came to quote on a job. ‘What is this place?’ he asked Bhaktananda. ‘It is so beautiful.’

Much more than destroying things, I love to build things and watch them being built. There was a time when the opposite was true. I was filled with self-hatred, doubt and fear, but the Guru changed my vision of myself and the world. Free of self-concern by Guru’s grace, it is possible to make a contribution that feeds my soul.

Over the years many young people have come through the Ashram doors, confused, agitated, broken-hearted, drug or alcohol addicted, lost and without purpose. After some years most have transformed and found their purpose, their life partner, and their career. To provide an atmosphere where seekers can awaken to Guru’s grace and unfold their destiny is the most sublime work.

When students move out of the Ashram to begin their householder lives, Guruji calls it ‘Graduation’ and gives diplomas based on the number of years they have spent in the ‘Ashram Residential Course’. When once the world reflected their negative mind states, now it reflects their growth and essence.

In the beginning of Guruji’s book ‘Consciousness Is Everything’ he quotes from the sage Keshemaraja on how to dispel suffering:

He is a bound soul who has poverty of Shakti. With the unfoldment of his Shakti, however, he becomes Shiva himself.

To unfold the inner Shakti and become Shiva means freedom from pain.

Shaivism says that Shakti unfolds with the grace of a Shaktipat Guru. And so many ashramites have moved from darkness to light, from ignorance to understanding during their sadhana with Guruji. Confusion has become clarity, addiction a passion for God, heartache love of Self, and aimless wandering a sense of purpose.

With the Shakti we will never feel impoverished, never feel a lack, never feel alone, never feel lost, never feel confused and never feel separate.

The other night in study group Guruji said, ‘It is rare to meet a Sadguru. Once you have met the Guru you can find a million reasons to leave him. But, there is only one reason to stay…and that is to know the Self.’

The connection with the Guru’s Shakti nourishes our whole being and unites us with his state of Consciousness. It is a direct line to Shiva, who breathes life into us and sustains grace.

When that connection wobbles we suffer from ‘poverty of Shakti’. The highest priority, whether you are an ashramite or a householder, is to maintain the flow of energy. When we hold to that we discover a love that weathers all storms.

Peace Symposium September 2012

A few years ago I was invited to speak at an Islamic women’s conference at a mosque in Melbourne. What follows are my thoughts on peace.

Thank you to our hosts for presenting this program today, and thank you for inviting me, and my colleagues to participate.

My Gurus have taught me that to welcome another person with love and respect is the true goal of meditation and spirituality. They also say that in order to do that we must first learn to love and accept ourselves, and then we can share that love with everyone.

The issue of Global Peace has become more urgent since the rise of terrorism in the late 70s and after 9/11. For many middle Eastern, and a few European countries terrorism has been a constant threat. 9/11 woke up the Americas in a dramatic way. Now, suddenly, there were terrorist threats in our homes and our loved ones were dying.

The question arises, ‘is peace possible?’

Classically there are two views on attaining peace. One you could call the ‘external’ point of view. If you change the government and you don’t allow selfish, greedy and rich people to run things from their self-interest then you have a chance for peace.

The other the ‘internal’ says that as long as there is violence in the individual heart, aggression is translated into domestic violence, social violence and global violence.

We cannot have peace in the world when there is a lack of peace in the hearts and minds of individuals. The mystic GI Gurdjieff used to say: ‘external consider always, internal consider never.’

Internal considering is when we imagine how others see us and we react to that imagining. When we internal consider we worry about how we look to others, what others think of us, whether we are more intelligent, more beautiful, richer, or more successful, have more or can do more. We can become obsessed with ourselves. We are so concerned about ourselves that we are blind and deaf to others. There is no friendship, no communication, and no understanding when we are caught in self-concern.

External considering is the opposite. We focus our attention and awareness on the ‘other’ and speak to the listening of the other person. A wise person always hears first and speaks second. They are free of self-concern, self-pity. External considering creates oneness. It is from this place that solutions, negotiation, agreement can be found.

The great sage Sai Baba of Shirdi said about his devotees, ‘I give them what they want until they want what I have to give.’ In other words if they came asking for a blessing to have a baby, he gave it. If they came looking for a dowry for their daughter’s marriage, he gave it. If they came looking for money, he gave it. He did not lecture them on what they should or should not want or, that they should be asking for spiritual enlightenment. But when they asked for that, he gave it.

tumblr_ma5130UznZ1qg2xvoo1_1280I was an activist in the 70s for a short time. I was working for a Youth Hostel funded by the Canadian Federal Government. When the funding ended the residents took to the streets in protest. The riot police showed up ready for battle. It became violent and I began to question the effectiveness of political activism. As I watched the police brutally beat my fellow demonstrators I understood that if I was going to work for peace it would not be in politics. Fortunately I was dragged away by a friend and was not arrested. That day my spiritual search began.

A few years later I was fortunate to meet a Guru whose teachings resonated within me, and whose energy woke me to a spiritual life. I began to do ‘sadhana’, serious work on myself. I learned to meditate.

Meditation has shown me all the good and not so good things about myself. It has taught me that Divinity is within me but it also taught me that I had unconscious fear, anger and sorrow that needed to be addressed. I learned to recognise negative emotion when it arose within me and to not speak or act out of it. As I meditated I began to understand myself and accept myself. As I accepted myself and learned to love myself my anger, fear and sadness lessened.

To commit to non-violence within one’s own heart is an act of great compassion. It is not easy.

My teacher Swami Shankarananda says: ‘Tell the truth don’t get angry’ meaning that we need to find the razor’s edge of truth and kindness in our communication. We can say what we have to say if we have compassion.

He also says: there is no good situation that a bad attitude cannot ruin, and there is no bad situation that a good attitude cannot improve. It is important to examine whether our attitude or understanding is contributing to peace or inflaming conflict.

One of the major blocks to inner peace and good communication within an individual is blame. When things go wrong the mind automatically asks, ‘Who is responsible? Who’s at fault? Who can I blame?’

Blame and finding fault can destroy love, can destroy relationships, destroy family unity and creates enmity where there was friendship.

In the Hindu Trinity of Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution, love is the sustaining power. When we give our love and devotion openly and freely to our nearest and dearest, to our work, to our friends, to our lives, we have peace in our lives. If we withdraw our love from the life we have built then we create instability, confusion, separation and uncertainty.

The poet saint Rabia wrote:

I have two ways of loving You: one is selfish and the other is worthy of You. In my selfish love, I remember You and You alone. 
In that other love, You lift the veil
 and I feast my eyes on Your Living Face.

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The Islamic tiles in our Interfaith Garden.

As Rabia says, the minute we give our attention and our devotion to that which really matters we see and feel divine love. The power of our heart to love is perhaps the greatest power we have. Rabia inspires us to overcome the blocks to our love, our connection to the Self and to the Divine. Is your heart available? Is your heart open? Is your heart generous?

Women particularly feel the burden of violence. We do want those we love, our children, our husbands, our fathers or mothers going off to war to die at the hands of terrorists. We also want to protect them from the temptations of a worldly life that separates them from the family unit. And so the task of educating children to think and feel responsibly falls to mothers.

A few years ago I was on pilgrimage in India to visit the samadhi shrine of Bhagawan Nityananda, the spiritual source of the divine energy of my lineage. One afternoon while meditating I silently asked him if he had a teaching for me. As I listened for an answer I heard a voice, ‘Always return to love, especially when you do not want to.’

The famous guitarist Jimi Hendrix said: When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.

Avoid The Lagoon Of No Shakti

‘One should perceive the inner Self through the gift of the Guru’s grace. By this path of the Guru, knowledge of one’s Self arises.’ (Guru Gita verse 110)

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Kailas Nivas

Love, love and more love are the words to describe Ganeshpuri. The villagers, the children, the temple priests and the animals exude love. ‘Jai Nityananda’ can be heard all day long from devotees celebrating their love of the Guru.

We are nine days into our retreat. In the mornings we have been meditating in Kailas Nivas, Bhagawan’s ashram. It is where he lived until shortly before he took mahasamadhi, his death. My meditations in Kailas have been fruitful, peaceful, grounded in the Self.

This morning the voice of the Self spoke to me in meditation, ‘there is no there’ it said. I felt a powerful unity consciousness. My two worlds, the places where my heart sings—the ashram in Mount Eliza and the ashram of the village of Ganeshpuri had become one. There was no difference. There was no tomorrow, no present and no yesterday; there was only the ‘sky of Consciousness’. Devotion for the Guru, the feeling of intimacy with that which I hold most dear was bubbling in my heart.

The Guru/disciple relationship is everywhere in Ganeshpuri. There are at least eight Samadhi temples where disciples still tend their Gurus’ homes even though many of them died decades ago. The relationship to the Guru is not a temporary one it is eternal. It is no ordinary relationship. Once made it cannot be broken for long.

Once in Ann Arbor in the early days of my relationship with Guruji I was upset with him. I was burning in my anger. I felt compelled to confront him. I do not remember what it was about but it had something to do with wanting something that he wasn’t giving me. I ran to his room and knocked boldly. He opened the door, took one look at me and slammed it in my face.

The rage boiled up in me. But then as I stood there staring at the closed door something shifted. I realized that I was behaving like I behaved in every personal relationship. I knew that I did not need another personal relationship. I was confused by them and tired of them. I needed a Guru. I laughed and walked away.

It hasn’t always been like this. In the past I have sometimes let my ego get in the way of devotion. If you let it, the Guru’s tests can burn the heart, dry up devotion, and erase the memory of bliss. These tests are a tapasya, a fire that can burn the ego to ashes. The Guru will, in the course of sadhana challenge expectations, imaginary wishes, dreams or hopes that arise from the ego. The Guru burns up weakness, tendencies that lead to delusion and suffering.

Over the years from time to time I have fallen into withdrawal and separation from the Guru and the Self out of jealousy, fear, anger and grief. The worst moments have been when my mind plummets into the darkness of these emotions. In those times wisdom and love vanish, and good will disappears. I am left with negative thoughts and a contraction in the heart. Devotion is gone.

In Satsang With Baba he speaks about what happens when the disciple temporarily loses touch with Guru’s grace:

You can achieve perfection in Siddha Yoga only through the grace of a siddha, a realized master. The yoga that you receive through the grace of the guru will also be consummated by his grace, and there is no doubt about it. Generally it is seen that once you receive the grace of the Guru you don’t lose it easily.

The Guru is not like an ordinary businessman who would refuse to serve you a cup of tea if you don’t pay the price. Even if the disciple would behave foolishly and turn away from the Guru, a siddha Guru would not become angry with him for quite some time. If a disciple has received the Guru’s grace, why should he be so stupid as to lose it? Why should he begin to live such an impure life that he would lose the grace in the course of time? Why should he be so ungrateful?

Baba’s words speak directly to the dilemma a disciple faces. I have learned that there is no event or circumstance worth giving up oneness with the Self, or the flow of Guru’s grace. I cannot stand the feeling of separation even for a second. To deprive myself of the relationship to the Guru, to the Shakti, to the Self, is a living hell.

I have learned that it is always possible to return to Guru’s grace. When I look honestly at myself, when I see how anger hurts me then there is an opening to see what I have lost. Taking responsibility is the key, not blaming others. It takes humility and an admission of wrong understanding. Wrong understanding leads to what Guruji calls ‘the lagoon of no Shakti.’ He also says, ‘there is no positive situation that a bad attitude cannot ruin. There is no negative situation that a good attitude cannot improve.’

Baba also wrote:

I accept the love of the entire world…I accept the love of everyone and I give my love to everyone without any distinction. I never ask anyone what he shall give me in return for my love.

Baba’s state of Consciousness is the goal of the guru/disciple relationship. And this is the state of Consciousness the Guru bestows on the disciple.

The Inner Self and Meditation

Watch this video of Swami Shankarananda sharing his initiation into mantra from his Guru Baba Muktananda.

See below and listen to two guided meditations.

Self-reflection, meditation is a natural human quality. We are born with this ability. It is not something someone else gives to us. It is not something that comes from the outside. It is not something we have to achieve. We simply have to remember how to do it.

There are many ways to meditate but you could say that there are two main streams of thought regarding how to best learn and achieve a meditative state. Both strive to help the meditator unite their individual consciousness with the Divine.

One is Vedantic and emphasises that the ‘world is unreal’ because it is subject to change, impermanent and therefore unreliable. It cannot be real. Only that which is eternal is ‘real’. The meditator struggles with their mind until it becomes one-pointed. All thoughts that focus on the world are discarded until the mind is fixed on one thought only: ‘I am Brahman, only the Self is real,’ until the experience of the Absolute is permanent.

The other is Tantric, which says that the world is a ‘play of Consciousness’. Here meditators align their individual consciousness with Divine Consciousness. The mind is trained to think from the highest until it identifies with the thought, ‘I am the Self, I am Shiva.’ The world is neither real nor unreal. It is the vibration of energy.

Eventually the whole world and all activity appears as the play of Consciousness and the meditator knows himself or herself to be the Self, or Shiva. You begin to understand that everything that happens is seen and known through your Awareness, your Consciousness.

  • Everything appears and disappears in Consciousness which never dies nor is it born.
  • Meditation is the most empowering activity we can do for our well-being.
  • In meditation we bring our attention from the outer world of objects to the inner world of the subject.
  • We learn who we truly are beyond everything we think we are.
  • No matter how many troubles we face in life, when we touch the Self the nightmare of frustration, despair and inadequacy disappears.
  • Meditation makes us whole.

Life is a series of Conversations

You could say that life is a series of conversations. From the time we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep there is chattering going on inwardly and outwardly. There are pleasant and unpleasant conversations. The mind dwells and broods over some and ignores others; some uplift us and some hurt us. These conversations are full of questions.

We ask ourselves questions all the time. Should I marry this one, or that one?  What career should I pursue? What should I wear? What should I eat? What is my true purpose? Is there a God? How can I get rid of suffering? What is love?

In meditation we reflect on the language that stills the mind, frees it from the restless activity of useless conversations and connects it to the Self. We learn to use language properly. We learn not to ask stupid questions like:

  • Why does this always happen to me?
  • Why did I say that?
  • How come I am not smarter?
  • How come I always fail?
  • Why can’t I get what I want?

When we ask these questions we may confront pain, agitation, fear, anger or grief. And so we are likely to avoid asking questions when we know that we do not have the skills to find or hear reassuring answers.

Some smart questions are:

  • What do I need to do to restore peace?
  • What is my next step?
  • How can I open my heart?
  • How can I move forward?
  • What is the highest understanding I can hold?
  • How can I achieve what I want?

When disappointment, frustration and anxiety overwhelm us we look for ways to drown out the negative feeling. We turn to food, drugs, sex and other diversions to avoid the angst of life.

Even in the waking state we can be mechanical, asleep or dreaming–unpresent. In meditation we wake up to ourselves. We can see how we sabotage our lives, our happiness, and our well-being.

Everyone Can Meditate, Everyone can inquire

Everyone meditates whether they call it that or not. Our skills and talents are perfected by concentration and focus. We cannot learn anything well without bringing all of our attention, creativity and purpose toward our goals. Most of the time we pursue worldly pleasure–money, food, sex and recognition. We work to secure a life free of trouble and strife. We pursue the good with great ingenuity and vigor, while pushing away the bad with the same energy. And, it is exhausting.

The need to acquire possessions and hold onto them binds us to the world in unhealthy ways. We can never have peace or be happy when desire and doubt, attachment to worldly things and fear of loss threatens our sense of security. When we meditate on loss we invoke the feeling of loss. When we meditate on fullness we invoke the feeling of fullness. True security happens when we connect with the Self and live from that space.

  • There is abundance in the universe that flows toward us when the mind is calm and free of desire.
  • Within you is a perfect state of Consciousness.
  • There is fullness, there is freedom, there is certainty, there is a blissful reality waiting to be claimed.

Three Approaches to Meditation

Most of us replenish our energy during sleep. If your sleep is disturbed or short then the mind becomes agitated. Meditation is similar to sleep in that we can access the peace of sleep while being awake. It has been described as ‘sleep sitting up’.

We can enter meditation via three familiar states of Consciousness: the sleep, dream and waking states. Some minds are lazy, sleep like and easily fall into Tandra, a sleep like trance. Other minds are full of fantasy, imagination and romantic notions. They enter a meditative state similar to dreaming. Other minds are vigilant to the outer world, anxious to keep things under control. They can learn to enter a mind state that is awake but peaceful. Some minds are full of to do lists, how to get ahead, and push for it. They learn to become absorbed in meditation.

The meditation you have at any given time will depend on the state of your mind when you sit to meditate. If your mind is agitated, or if you are angry, or depressed or afraid, it will take more time to calm the mind. However, it is exactly at these times that meditation is crucial. If we can sit until the mind is calm we have achieved a spiritual triumph.

Meditation has the peace of the sleep state, the inspiration of the dream state, and the vibrancy of the waking state. It restores us on all levels.

Some Methods

There are hundreds of techniques that can quiet the mind. However there are three important ones. Our goal is to work with the mind to calm its restlessness and find the techniques that work for us. They are:

  • Mantra–repeating a word or phrase designed to connect with the higher Self
  • Inquiry–identifying the inner contractions that cause suffering and then releasing them
  • Being present–just sitting

Try these guided meditations:

You can always have the meditation you are having

Befriend Your Mind

Let these doors always be open

An old man lies rigid in the middle of the road. This country road only has one lane. Cars, trucks, motorcycles and bullock carts fight for space and swerve to avoid running over him. A group of bystanders watch from a distance. No one moves to help him. I wonder if he is drunk or sick or paralysed. We cannot stop the car and I pray someone helps him.

Welcome to India.

Here, every moment seems fraught with an unexpected happening. But the blessings of the Guru are already running like an electric current through my being.

Bhagawan’s Shakti is fierce and loving. He is unrelenting in his demand that we aspire to the highest state of Consciousness—to be detached, to be self-possessed, to be in the flow, to be free, to care more for God and less about our worldly desires and fears, to be loving and compassionate—this is the ultimate blessing of the Guru. If we get out of the way of his grace then the world is set right.

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Gurudev Siddha Peeth

Gurudev Siddha Peeth is on the way to the village of Ganeshpuri. The walls stand like a fortress against alien entry. They remind me of a Tolkien book, Lord of the Rings. I reflect on my time there in the late 70s. ‘Leave your ego with your shoes!’ bellowed a sign over the shoe rack as I step through the lotus gates for the first time. The Shakti shuts down my mind and my heart fills with bliss. I was never the same.

In the mornings I scrub the outer courtyard to perfection. It is joyous to be on my knees polishing the marble. After three days I am moved into the publications department to type on an old Underwood. Not a particularly good typist I prefer the courtyard. I surrender to the Shakti’s will.

When I returned home to Ann Arbor after three months I felt as though I was being squeezed through a tiny tube. My personal karma weighed me down. I remember thinking, ‘this is what birth must feel like. Coming from pure Consciousness into the body, spirit to matter.’ The contraction was overwhelming. I could hardly breathe under its weight. It took a few months to return to normal.

Now, almost 40 years later, I feel grateful to have known and served Baba. I recall his great heart, his nectar love, his fiery nature, his overwhelming presence, power and magic. To be in Baba’s kingdom was to be transported to the Satya Yuga, a time of truth and peace and welcome. I do not long for the past and yet a part of me wishes the present was different.

I feel the Guru’s welcome as I pranam to Bhagawan. I go next door to the Shiva temple. As I walk down the stairs I am hit by a powerful force of Shakti and as I bow to the lingam I hear Baba’s voice, ‘I am here now.’

Gurubhakti, love of the guru, is palpable in Ganeshpuri. I take heart that the village is open to us even though we are in some way, interlopers. I can only glimpse the complexity of village life. There is a natural balance that is disturbed by our group’s presence. It is inevitable that when East meets West there is a clash. To be tentative here is to be wise. We bring prosperity, charity and caring and we receive love and Bhagawan’s grace. The villagers are not used to so much input from the West. Occasional Western visitors pass through but large groups of 90 to 100 like ours are rare. We are slowly becoming family.

To walk through the temple doors and glimpse Bhagawan as he presides over this domain is a joy. Even though his Shakti is powerful in Mt Eliza, here for me, he is more potent. To watch the devotees file in one by one gives me such pleasure. The newbies especially are looking at him in wonder. Their faces are radiant with light and awe. The mystical power emanating from Bhagawan can only be God’s grace. This place is magical.

Guruji has often said that his favorite service to Baba was to introduce new people to him. And now with humility and love he leads them to Bhagawan. I pray, ‘let these doors always be open.’

Guruji and I are ushered beyond the silver barriers into his samadhi. We are allowed to touch him, receive his blessings and bow. We perform the Arati and everyone chimes in. The priests are smiling and glad to see us. It is so good to be home.

Sannyas

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Ganeshpuri 2009 Sannyas ceremony

I left my heart at my Guru’s feet. There is no taking it back once given. My fate sealed my destiny decided. I am his. This is the only truth I know. What is done cannot be undone. What is to be will be. How easy to love in the light of the sun. How difficult to love in the shade of darkness. My prayer is that we all flourish in the radiance of guru’s grace.

 

In 2009 Swamiji asked me if I wanted to take sannyas, to become a swami (monk), in our tradition. This initiation would formally acknowledge my dedication to yoga and meditation, and my commitment to ashram life and to serving others. There have always been mendicants, seekers who devote their lives to spiritual practice and whose goal is Self-realisation.

This tradition was formalised by the great Adi Shankara, who traveled around India teaching from 788CE to 820CE. Shankaracharya, as he became known, was the founder of Advaita Vedanta, a non-dual path of wisdom. He established four maths, or ashrams that still operate today; much later a fifth was established. His initiates were called sannyasis.

Sannyas was closed to women and also to foreigners until the last century. In the 70s Anandamayi Ma, Bhagawan Rajneesh (Osho), Swami Muktananda, the Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Satchidananda and a few others gave sannyas to Westerners. However the initiates were usually associated with, or taken care of by an ashram or their Guru.

The ceremony is likened to a funeral service. It is a ritual designed to dissolve worldly desires, unhealthy attachments to the body, to possessions and personal relationships. Metaphorically the initiate dies to their previous life and is reborn into a life of service, teaching and study.

Brahmin priests trained in the ancient practice of chanting Sanskrit mantras perform the pre-sannyas rituals. These mantras carry a purifying energy that works on the subtle and physical body. There are mantras to purify the five sheaths; mantras to shed past karmas; mantras to become a Brahmin; and mantras to protect the mind. There are mantras to break attachment to family, friends and loved ones; mantras to cut away attachment to the body and sensual pleasures; mantras to prepare for the final initiation, which the sannyas Guru performs, in this case, Swamiji.

This was not the first time sannyas became a possibility for me. In 1982, just before his death, Baba Muktananda gave me the opportunity to become a swami. At that time I was struggling in my sadhana. Swamiji was in Australia, my husband had become a swami and I felt at loose ends and uncertain as to what I truly wanted. However, I was afraid of my will and desire, and my impulsive nature. I was not sure that I was finished with worldly life. I felt unready to commit to the renunciation that I imagined sannyas to be. And so I did not accept.

Now, becoming a Swami did not seem like I would be taking an uncomfortable step into the unknown. Whatever held me back in the 80s was no longer present. However, as the ceremony approached I was aware that I had some apprehension and uncertainty. I questioned myself. Was it suited to my temperament? Were the tendencies of my mind antithetical to sannyas?

I can be volatile, passionate and head strong, and need a certain amount of physical comfort. I have spent many years working on understanding my emotions and how they cause me suffering. I used to bristle at being told what to do, how to do something and when to do it. I was not sure these tendencies had been put to rest enough and would not again rise in my consciousness. I intuited that the ceremony might intensify the demand on me to be more disciplined both in my spiritual practice and my mental habits. There was no pressure on me except my own inner process. And so, in January when we went to India for five weeks with a number of people on a spiritual pilgrimage, sannyas was on my mind.

The ceremony would be held in Ganeshpuri, near the heart of my path which I hold so dearly. Going through an initiation there appealed to my romantic spiritual inclination. I love India, especially the little dusty village of Ganeshpuri, from which the great Siddha, Bhagavan Nityananda and his disciple, Baba Muktananda, gave Shaktipat, kundalini awakening, to thousands of seekers. It is also where Swamiji did his sadhana.

In 1978 when I first stepped through the gates of Gurudev Siddha Peeth, I felt swept back in time to a place where there was no ignorance or suffering. I remember the profound feeling of belonging. In the radiance of Baba’s Shakti I easily connected to my essence. There was something so sweetly tender and intensely powerful in the atmosphere. How those two arose simultaneously is still a mystery.

And so the night before the ceremony I was remembering my early days of sadhana. As I contemplated what was before me my attitude shifted. I meditated and realized that I wanted to become a swami; that I wanted to accept the yearning of my heart to reach for the Highest.

Four other disciples of Swamiji: Jani Baker of Classical Yoga, Kali Noelle, head of our Hatha Yoga department; Dylan Frusher, Bhaktananda (who took sannyas here a few years ago, but who asked to go through the ceremony with us) and Rama Berch, the head of Master Yoga Foundation (Svaroopa Yoga) in America and one of the founders of Yoga Alliance (America) would also take it.

Swamiji directed the ceremony, with eight Brahmin priests. His presence was a soothing balm to the fire of the mantras. As the Brahmins chanted the opening mantras I began to leak from every orifice—my nose was running, my eyes were watering, and I was perspiring in every part of my body. I also had an uncontrollable urge to run to the toilet. At an appropriate time I shyly asked the Brahmins to be excused.

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After taking our vows.

We were dressed in white clothes that we would throw in the river after the ceremony.  Our heads were shaved–apparently there is a lot of ego in hair. I was looking forward to this part, being ‘hair’ free appealed to me. Seeing myself bald for the first time was a shock. I hardly recognised myself.

During the ‘breaking of ties with ancestors’ part of the ceremony we were given three balls made of rice and herbs. One represented me, the other my maternal grandmother and the other my paternal grandmother. As the priests chanted we were told to pick each one up and lay it back down on the plate. I picked up the first, the one representing me, and as I lay it down it broke—an auspicious sign. I picked up the second, my maternal side of my family and it stayed stuck together as if bonded by strong glue. “Hmmmm”, I thought to myself, “not a good sign.” I picked up the paternal rice ball, set it down and it shattered beautifully. The Brahmin ceremony ended with more mantras and a puja to the Guru.

Afterwards I felt my deep filial connection to the maternal side of my family. Was this the reason the rice ball did not break? Also, my brother and sister were in Australia visiting. Maybe it had something to do with them. I wanted to share my spiritual path with my family and help them overcome their suffering. Was I too concerned? Was I too vulnerable? Was I too attached? What did I need to relinquish?

In the middle of the ceremony I was confronted by my mind and how it has tormented me my whole life. Past memories and grievances flashed before me, so too did concerns about the future. The tendencies of my mind were the same but I sensed the ‘I’ of watching becoming stronger. As I witnessed it all I lost interest in the mental dance and turned my attention to the mantras. As my mind shifted its focus I was aware that the Guru’s presence, the Brahmin priests, and the devotees were providing palpable support for a new understanding.

I felt the mysterious force of renunciation working. I sensed the presence of Bhagawan Nityananda, Baba and other Siddhas. I heard their encouraging voices in my mind. ‘Thoughts and feelings have always been there, will arise in the future and also in the present. This is the nature of Consciousness—to arise and subside. This is natural. Do not make what arises ‘real’. Embrace the uplifting thoughts and renounce the negative ones.’

Early the next morning Swamiji led us in a yagna, a fire ritual in preparation for the final ritual that would take place near the river. After chanting various Sanskrit mantras we walked toward the water that was too filthy to bathe in, and headed toward a safer place, the hot springs. We were told to take off all of our clothes, a traditional act of renunciation, and walk north toward the Himalayas. As we did this Swamiji called us back saying, ‘O swamis return for the sake of humanity and serve.’ At this point we returned, donned a simple piece of orange cloth and accepted the command of the sannyas Guru to serve. I was peaceful and content as we completed the final part of the ceremony: receiving the sannyas mantra, aham brahmasmi, ‘I am Brahman’, ‘I am the Absolute’ and I then heard my new name Swami Bhairavi Ananda.

When I returned home I told Premji how the rice for my maternal side of the family refused to crumble. She laughed saying , ‘it’s because your brother’s, your sister’s and your mother’s ashes are in urns under your puja in your bedroom!”

I laughed as I realised that I was clinging to family members who had passed away years ago, either by illness or sudden death. It was time to let them go. The next day Swamiji, me, friends who knew them, and my brother and sister, gathered and laid their ashes to rest under a beautiful, blooming crepe myrtle tree. And during this sweet ceremony, I felt the rice ball break.

After all was said and done—the intense ceremony, the shaved head, the haunting mantras of the priests, the orange clothes, the blessings of my Gurus, and the memorial ceremony to spread the ashes—I had been transformed. I sensed myself to be something I had always wanted to be—more myself.

 

Love your own Self

Love your own Self

‘Meditate on your own Self, worship your own Self, honour your own Self, love your own Self. God dwells within you as you,’ said an advertisement in the local morning paper. This was an unusually positive message for an American paper with ties to the racially conflicted city of Detroit, Michigan.

It was September 1974, a beautiful time of year in the Midwest. I was living in Ann Arbor with Danny, a young man who was to become my husband, and working at the University of Michigan Counselling Services. A few days later he came home from class and told me he had received an invitation from his psychology professor to meet a holy man from India, a Guru named Baba Muktananda, the writer of the benevolent message.

Baba’s message uplifted and puzzled me. I was stirred by the mysterious words ‘God dwells within you, as you’. They resonated with truth. But, to believe that God lived within me, as me, seemed an impossible attainment.

The vision inherent in that message was powerful and compassionate, two qualities I had not yet encountered. Later, as I became familiar with my inner world, I began to understand its significance. I would not know the true meaning of Baba’s words until I understood how I made life difficult for myself.

A few days later, intrigued and curious about the mystic East, Danny and I pulled up outside a grand old fraternity house. It was freshly painted white weatherboard with black shutters; something that would look more comfortable nestled at Cape Cod than in this small university town. It appeared normal except for the large black sign ‘Siddha Yoga Dham’ on the rooftop. As I entered, the smell of incense filled my nostrils. There was a subtle electricity in the atmosphere; everything was extraordinarily bright. My attention was drawn to a photograph of a naked man lying on his side, smiling mysteriously. He seemed odd, eccentric. I wondered who he was and what he represented but I was not dismayed. Even though the ambience was unfamiliar, I was completely at ease.

Baba was sitting on a small sofa, answering questions. The room was alive and still at the same time. His bright orange clothes blazed warmth in the fall chill. As I sat down I glanced up at him. Our eyes met and although no words were spoken, I felt welcomed. There was laughter as he told a story. He said that everyone had an inner Self and that happiness could be found within. As he spoke I felt a pull and my attention was drawn to my inner being. The room faded as I grew drowsy and the last thing I remember is my head falling forward. I came back to the room with a start to Danny poking me on the shoulder. Time had passed. I did not want to leave but we had to pick up a friend at the airport.

I felt a twinge of regret as I unsteadily stood to go. I wondered if I would see him again. I regretted that I was busy during the rest of the time he was visiting Ann Arbor. He was still answering questions, so without saying goodbye, we left. As we walked to the car I asked Danny how long we had been there. I was surprised to learn it was only half an hour. I felt like I had slept for eight hours, yet it was different. I was transported to a place deep within me, connected to the whole world, truly in touch with myself for the first time. As we drove away I said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but that man has something.’

(to be continued)