Wilful Woeful

Wilful Woeful

In late 1981 I traveled with Baba Muktananda back to Ganeshpuri, at the end of his last American tour. My ex-husband had taken sannyas in Los Angeles, and stayed back in South Fallsburg to manage the ashram. Baba had suggested that I stay in Fallsburg also but I could not edit the Siddha Path magazine from there and so opted for Ganeshpuri. 

Gurudev Siddha Peeth was where I felt most at home, most at peace, and most blissful. But in those months before Baba’s death, in October of 1982, I became restless and dissatisfied with my life.

Swamiji had been running the Fitzroy ashram in Australia and I was no longer working with him on the magazine. There was no foreseeable sign of us working together ever again. Australia seemed like a powerful spiritual match for him. Baba told him, ‘you go well in Australia.’ Even though Swamiji happened to be in Ganeshpuri at this time, he was tending to the Australians.

During the months prior to Baba’s death many long time ashramites were considering returning to the world. After seven years of disciplined ashram life, I too began to crave a different experience. I questioned whether I needed a change and that maybe it was time for me to leave also. 

Baba had offered to give me sannyas on his birthday in May, however, I was reluctant to accept. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be part of a massive impersonal foundation. Instead, thoughts of leaving the ashram began to rattle my brain. As these thoughts took over my mind I became more restless and frustrated with my situation.

Swamiji had developed close relationships with the Australians and there was no place or Seva for me in his current life. I had imagined that we would run an ashram together in the future, but now it seemed that would not manifest any time soon, or at all. I got mad at myself for my attachment to him. However, instead of examining what was happening within me, I began to look for a way out.

My thoughts became more and more separative, as the Maya of wanting a change overtook me. I want to see if I can hold the Shakti in the world. I want to know if I have attained anything. Can I be happy in the world? Maybe if I am away from Swamiji I will discover a different happiness? These questions plagued me and I found a laundry list of reasons to support my growing cause.

A man who worked in the gardens started pursuing me and eventually I turned to him for company. A relationship grew. He had plans to leave for the USA in May, just before Baba’s birthday and after getting to know him for a few months, I made the decision to join him. 

As my friends and mentors heard that I was about to leave they tried to encourage me to stay. They told me I was making a mistake. They said that I belonged in the ashram and that what I was doing went against what was best for me. I refused to listen. In fact, their words had the opposite effect, and I became more and more determined to leave.

Shortly before we were to leave we went up to Baba to say goodbye. He spoke to me lovingly but firmly saying, ‘I thought you wanted to be a swami.’ 

‘I changed my mind Baba’, I said.

‘Your mind is weak’, he replied.

I laughed uncomfortably but refused to consider his words.

‘He is so ugly’, Baba said. I was astounded that Baba spoke so cruelly in front of my new partner. I knew that he was trying to get my attention by showing his displeasure. But I was adamant in my decision and would not listen to the secret message in his words. It was obvious that I did not have his blessing to do what I was doing. My belligerence overwhelmed my surrender. Still, I refused to listen to Baba. 

‘You have one of my best sadhus,’ he said. ‘But, he is a thorn to remove a thorn’. said Baba.

That stopped my mind. I knew he was referring to my relationship with Swamiji. A seed of doubt was planted.

‘You won’t be happy. Now go’, Baba said.

Those were the last words he spoke to me.

I am pretty sure that is me in the foreground.

And, of course, Baba was right. The minute I stepped outside the gates of the ashram I knew I had made a mistake. As I climbed into the taxi to Bombay I felt the full impact of my wilful desire. I woke up from the dream of my fantasy and to the truth that my decision to leave was motived by anger and resentment. I had refused to listen to Baba or to the wise counsel of those I cared about. I hurt myself, I hurt them and I was about to hurt my new partner. I wanted to run back to the ashram but I could not take back what I had set in motion; certain karmas had to be played out.

Such is the power of will gone wrong. Eventually, I would learn to recognise the inner signs when my will went wrong, and be suspicious of that movement. But, I had much more sadhana to do before I could calm it when it raised its impulsive head.

We arrived in Vancouver to visit my family and after a few days I told my partner that I did not want to continue our relationship. He left for America without me. 

Alone suddenly, I went into shock. Baba was right of course. I had left everything I loved and cared about. I had left my spiritual family, my work and the Guru. I was bereft. And then, Baba took samadhi. 

My mind went berserk. I was overwhelmed in sadness and grief at Baba’s death. I never told him how much I loved him. I never thanked him for giving me an amazing life. How could I have done what I did? My heart became dry. I plummeted into a spiritual weakness–self-doubt and fear.

I questioned everything about my decisions and tore into myself. I was an idiot. I was stupid. I was angry and wilful. I was a fool. Why did I not feel Shakti? Was it because I left India without the blessings of the Guru, my friends and the spiritual community that had supported and loved me? Was I was just ineffectual? Had I made all the wrong decisions? I had left a Shakti-filled life for what?

I grappled for my place in life. I did not know whether I was a wife who had not met the right man, a career person who had not found the right career, a servant of Baba’s successors, Swamiji’s disciple, or a seeker who would find another teacher. 

Baba’s words, ‘You won’t be happy reverberated in my head.’ In later years those words became a warning that arose in my mind every time I wanted to do something wilful.

Finally, I understood that I had to return to the Shakti. There was no peace or Shakti in Vancouver for me. The only thing that gave me some comfort, was the idea that I should go to Santa Monica where there was an ashram, look for a job and try to put my life back together. Maybe I could reconnect with the Shakti by doing this. 

I got a job on a magazine and an apartment in Santa Monica close to the Broadway ashram. I was living but did not feel alive or in touch Guru’s grace. I felt mechanical and my heart was not connected to God.

I began to realise that it was spiritual suicide to reject what had been given to me by the Shakti and the Guru. No matter what I thought I wanted personally, no matter what I thought about Swamiji, the higher dharma was to follow my connection to the Shakti, to God, to the Guru and to the Self. My dharma was to accept my devotion, wherever that led me.

Gurumayi and Swami Nityananda were now sitting as the Gurus and in charge of all ashram and foundation matters. Gurumayi was touring America in early ’84 and due to visit Santa Monica. She was holding programs at the old Broadway theatre in the mall by the ashram. Swamiji was with her as her MC. I knew that I should reach out but I was scared. I got up the courage to telephone him and asked if I could visit him.

When I told Swamiji that I was having a rough time he said, ‘Why don’t you come back on tour? Talk to Gurumayi.’

Even though I wanted to accept Swamiji’s guidance, I was doubtful. I would have to swallow my pride and admit that I made a mistake. I knew that it might be hard to be on tour. Previously, I had a lot of independence and freedom to create. Under these new conditions I fearfully imagined what seva I might have to do. 

I wanted confirmation from the Shakti that returning to the ashram was right. That night after seeing Swamiji, I went to the evening program with Gurumayi. The old theatre was packed and so I sat down on the floor in the last row in the back.

‘Baba,’ I prayed, ‘I need a sign. If you want me to return to the tour, please give me one.’

A few seconds later I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up at a hall monitor. ‘Come with me,’ she said. I got up and we walked down to the front two rows from Gurumayi.

‘Sit here,’ she said and smiled. Gurumayi looked over and smiled at me.

I was laughing inside myself. ‘Okay Baba, I will talk to her.’ 

I went up in the darshan line to greet her, and she seemed full of light. She  greeted me warmly. We joked and I asked to see her. She told me to come the next day. Immediately, I was aware that I had aligned with the Shakti. My inner being was illumined by Guru’s grace. The next day I went to see her. She was sitting in a small room in the ashram. ‘I want to come back Gurumayi. I miss Baba,’ I said. 

She looked at me and considered what I had said. For a moment I thought I had said something wrong. I was a little apprehensive for she had adopted some of Baba’s manners and gestures. I imagined that she was in a difficult situation with the old-timers. It could not have been easy to fill Baba’s shoes. Her power and charisma however, were undeniable. I had always felt a connection with Gurumayi and she had always been very good to me. I also deeply admired her devotion to Baba.

Once in Miami when I visited Baba she called me into her room to chat. When I walked in she was sitting on her bed. There was only the floor for me and so I sat down in front of her a few inches away. I looked up at her big gorgeous face; she is unbelievably beautiful. Suddenly, the room exploded in Shakti and I was filled with ecstasy. The room seemed to vibrate with the chemistry of a strange mystery between us. I was astounded at this immense power. We laughed and chatted about nothing. We didn’t speak about what happened, but I thought that there was no way that she could not have felt it. 

The old Broadway theatre in Santa Monica where the programs were held.

But back in Santa Monica I was on shaky ground. My confidence was low. ‘Baba is still alive; he is everywhere,’ she said. 

‘I know’, I replied, but I am having trouble feeling him.’

Gurumayi paused and said, ‘Okay, but you need $2,000.’

I only had $500 in the bank. I knew that it would take me a year to save that much money and I did not want to wait a year. Where was I going to get the rest? I prayed that the money would somehow come. 

A few days later I was in the parking lot across from the ashram looking for a space to park. I stopped and waited for a car to pull out. A large utility van about a hundred feet ahead of me was also waiting to park. I looked to my left as the car pulled out from the space I wanted. I looked up and the van was reversing toward me at about 25 mph. ‘He can’t possibly be going to run into me,’ I thought. ‘Can he?’

Sure enough he backed right into my car. The front end was so damaged I could not drive. I was unhurt but in a state of shock. I got out of my car and a young man of about twenty jumped out of the truck crying, ‘I am so sorry.  Are you all right?’ He was grateful I was not hurt.

We exchanged information and he told me that he would contact his insurance company so my car could be fixed. The next day I received a phone call from his mother who asked if I would accept a cheque for $2,000! I could not believe my good fortune.

The prodigal daughter returned home.

Ganeshpuri 1977

Ganeshpuri 1977

In 1977 Das and I joined a large group of devotees from America for our first trip to India. We were to spend three months in Baba Muktananda’s ashram, Gurudev Siddha Peeth. After a long drive through the rural landscape of small dusty villages and parched country, the bus from the airport pulled up outside the ashram.

I had seen pictures and videos of the ashram, but I was unprepared for its beauty—a small palace, it gleamed shakti from every corner. We walked through the gates to a small marble courtyard and it took my breath away. ‘Leave your ego with your shoes’ demanded the sign above the shoe rack. Amused I took that as my first Ganeshpuri command.

Immediately, I felt an acceptance, a familiar welcome that was Baba. He was sitting on his perch at the front of the courtyard waiting to greet us. The atmosphere was exotic and inviting. There were date palm, mango and banana trees planted throughout. We all sat down. After a short while he told us to take rest. We were shown to our rooms and I collapsed on the bed for almost twenty-four hours. The next morning I awoke to clanging bells and a loud chant blaring over the loudspeakers. Nityananda Mahan rang out as I made my way to the program. I was cold from the early morning damp and not used to walking on the marble floors, which sent shivers up my spine.

The Ann Arbor ashram was a small world compared to this one. Life was big here. Hundreds of Westerners and Indians worked together, meditated together, ate together, and lived together. More devotees came on the weekend often bringing delicious sweets and curries.

I became aware that I had been carrying a burden of some sort, and that I now felt much lighter. A subtle weight had been lifted. It was easy to settle into ashram life. There was little discomfort or friction.

We were asked to report for ashram seva, service to the Guru. I was given a mop and a bucket and told to scrub the floor of the outer courtyard where everyone entered. The ‘ego’ sign was visible as I washed and scrubbed.

Every morning for the next three days I went to the seva desk for my bucket and brush. I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed each marble tile with great thoroughness and inner joy. My acceptance was so deep that when they told me to scrub the cracks with a toothbrush, I was still ecstatic, such was the exalted condition of my spirit.

The outer courtyard comprised the entrance to the large courtyard where Baba sat, and to the temple that held the murti of Bhagavan Nityananda. Bhagavan sat at the front of what used to be the meditation hall; he was life-size, dark brown, and beautiful. Baba went to see him each morning as the priests bathed him. I sometimes got up early to watch him garland Bhagavan and participate silently in his devotion. As Baba greeted him, a tangible sweet feeling permeated the atmosphere. It was intimate, affectionate and moving. Bhagavan seemed to light up as Baba silently moved around him while reverently chanting mantras.

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Baba walking through the inner courtyard.

After breakfast I raced back to the hall, where a small group chanted the Rudram, an ancient Vedic prayer to Shiva. The Sanskrit words were long and difficult to pronounce but I was soon able to follow along. The Shakti responded to this prayer with a mysterious power and vibrated throughout my whole being. The Rudram and the Shiva Mahimnah Stotram that we chanted in the evening both have a mysterious effect and uplift my soul every time I chant them.

In the mornings after seva I sat in the inner courtyard where Baba conducted ashram business. I watched him work as various managers and secretaries came to him with questions and reports. He was more approachable here than when he was traveling in the West. He sat out there sometimes for a few hours. Many brave ashramites asked him questions about spiritual and worldly life. Although I could not hear his answers, most walked away beaming. I wanted to approach him, but I didn’t have a question. I was in deep communion with him on the subtle plane where the Shakti was dancing and no words were necessary.

Baba was always at ease, in control and yet not in control, active and yet not active. He participated in life and yet was detached. There was an enigma in his presence. I treasured this time. He was beautiful to watch, his self-mastery apparent. There were few people and I was able to sit close and bask in the loving energy that flowed from him. My mind was quiet and I meditated even though I was watching everything. There was stillness at the centre of my being. For the first time I meditated with my eyes open. As my awareness moved around the courtyard, the Self was tangible. I watched, I listened, I saw, I observed and I remained connected to the Self. Sitting there is etched in my memory.

Some weeks after we arrived, Baba organized a four-day yatra, a pilgrimage to some of the local holy sites. I looked forward to Alandi, the samadhi shrine of Jnaneshwar, one of India’s greatest saints; to Dehu, the birthplace of another saint, the poet Tukaram (one of Swamiji’s favorites); to Shirdi, the village where the famous Sai Baba had lived and to Poona for a rest.

Baba warned us not to give money to the beggars. Wise advice, for at the first stop we were assaulted by a mob of children pleading for money. My heart went out to them but I heeded Baba’s warning. He was generous to a fault when it was appropriate. He built homes, hospitals and schools around Ganeshpuri. He fed and clothed the locals and gave them jobs. He did not, however, want us to give money to street beggars.

Once, when I walked the streets of Bombay alone, I made the mistake of ignoring Baba’s advice and gave some money to a child that had no hands. I was immediately assaulted by a crowd of children. They grabbed at my purse. Fortunately, a taxi driver intervened and chased them away with a big stick.

Alandi was the first stop. Jnaneshwar was a born siddha, who translated the Bhagavad Gita into Marathi at the age of fifteen, for the local people.  When he was twenty-two he told his devotees that he was going to take live samadhi. He asked them to dig a hole in the ground. He told them that he would sit and enter meditation and then they were to cover him with dirt. And so they did. This is a kind of samadhi where the consciousness of the saint stays with the body and continues to give blessings to devotees.

Several hundred years after his burial another holy man, Eknath Maharaj, had a dream in which Jnaneshwar told him that he was being choked by the root of a tree. Eknath dug up the grave to find the body warm and alive, although in a trance state. He removed the root that was around his neck and again covered him over. It is believed that he is still alive. I considered this to be an unbelievable story. I cannot think of a worse death than being buried alive.

The temple was crowded with pilgrims from all over India. The line was long as we waited single file. The Brahmin priests ushered us one by one into a small room no bigger than a closet. The floor was dark grey stone polished to a shine from the millions of bare feet that had made their way there. It was hot and the only light came from a small window carved in the stone walls. Two priests chanted mantras as we passed by. In the centre of the floor in line with his head was a square with a black lingam, an esoteric symbol of Shiva, covered in flowers. I looked down and offered some flowers. As my hand came close to the top of it I could feel waves of energy and heat pouring out of it. In my mind I heard a rushing sound like the wind and I fell to my knees. I heard myself muttering, ‘Oh my God, he is alive; he is alive!’

I looked up into the face of the Brahmin priest across from me as he reached out to stop me from falling on top of Jnaneshwar’s head. He was smiling in amused agreement. I unsteadily rose to my feet with his help. I was completely intoxicated. I couldn’t believe it. There was no doubt that his presence was fully there. I consider that one of the most wonderful moments of my spiritual life. Now it is impossible to get that close to Jnaneshwar. I feel fortunate to have had his blessing and darshan.

The next stop was Shirdi, the home of the 20th-century mystic Sai Baba. No one really knows his personal history except that he arrived in Shirdi and took up residence in an abandoned mosque. It soon became obvious that he was a great siddha yogi and devotees gathered around him. Many were cured of illness and attained deep states of meditation. Since then Sai Baba has become a legend and his picture is found in almost every taxi and shop in India. He is renowned for miracles. Women pray to him for sons, fathers for dowries for their daughters, mothers for their sick children, and executives for wealth and power. No wish is too petty or worldly for Sai Baba. He once said, ‘I give them what they want, until they come to want what I have to give them.’

I was astounded by the unabashed voicing of wants and needs in the Indian culture. It used to be difficult for me to articulate what I want and then to ask for it. It somehow never felt quite right, as if my true needs are always being met. Worrying about myself caused an anxiety I avoided. I prefer to pray for others while and hope that if my prayer reaches others, it will touch me also.

We were to spend the night there and were settled in large open rooms with straw mattresses on the floor. The accommodation was rudimentary but the atmosphere wonderfully joyful. We went to evening Arati, prayer, which was held in a small hall that contains a life-size marble statue of Sai Baba. There was energy, enthusiasm and excitement as devotees sang out the Arati, and danced in ecstasy. They were uninhibited and unselfconscious in their expression of love. I watched in admiration at the ease with which they showered their praise and adoration.

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Murti of Sai Baba

After it was over I wandered out to find a toilet. Shirdi was not particularly clean and so I was uncomfortable. I walked into a smelly, damp mud hut with three stalls that had holes dug in the ground. I had become used to squatting and was even beginning to prefer it, but I was not prepared for the filth. I headed for the last stall thinking that maybe it would be the cleanest because it was the furthest away. I walked in and was horrified to discover a dog at the hole eating faeces. I was disgusted and repulsed. He looked up at me. His bright yellow eyes bored into me. Our eyes locked and I heard a voice in my mind, ‘I am ashamed, please don’t hurt me.’

Horrified, I turned and ran out to find another toilet. That night my sleep was restless. I could not free my mind from the image of the dog’s despair and suffering. The next day as we headed for Dehu I felt sick. I got worse as the day wore on and by the time we got there I was so sick I had to be driven back to the ashram. Once back in the ashram I quickly recovered but it was not over. Our first night back Das had a dream in which the dog came to him and attacked him. Das told me that he battled with him in his dream state for what seemed all night and, in the early hours of dawn, was finally able to fight him off.

Baba sometimes spoke about fallen yogis who can get trapped in the body of animals. The next day we agreed that the dog was probably a fallen yogi, trapped in the body of the dog. The dog was experiencing intolerable shame and suffering. To this day I remember the pain in his eyes. It was as if there was a person in there. I will never forget the degradation I felt in that soul. I had experienced the best and worst of India.

Even though Baba’s physical presence is gone, his shakti resonates everywhere. I once heard him say that when he leaves his body he would remain in the hearts of his devotees. I am grateful that he has taken residence in my heart. I have noticed that the disciples who hold to his feet and teachings are radiant with his blessings; their lives are fuller and richer for having him as their Guru.

 

 

 

 

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.

God Madness Is A Good Madness

A share from a devotee’s letter on his first visit to Ganeshpuri and Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram.

Ganeshpuri.

I lost my mind and found God. There was that day I spent reflecting that unhappiness was a memory and that happiness was the natural state of being.

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Banyan tree that Bhagawan Nityananda used to sit under.

The tree out the front is a portal like Ganeshpuri is a portal. But unlike Ganeshpuri where the Shakti is like a constant earthquake. And the spirit world is immediate.

What Bhagavan Nityananda gave me I can’t describe except in a child’s terms. It is like he gave me a Willy Wonka lolly, like the endless tasting chewing gum of Shakti. It is like he put a lingam in my head and said ‘off you go.’ It is nuts but I have the rest of the trip to bring this into a meaningful context and apply it in the real world. 

From the Goddesses of the temple with eyes that emitted blue light, to seeing a blue light like a mist coming from me and in my mala beads. And some being telling me I have not left Siddha Loka yet. Then saying a week later ‘you have left Siddha Loka.’ Well what reference does even a spiritual nut like myself have to measure such experiences?

I knew my mental state had become more normal.

But other than to say Bhagavan gave me all the Shakti I needed then and more for the road. 

I know I have the Shakti at home in my meditation. I feel Bhagavan has given me a great gift and I have reformed a personal relationship with a place and perhaps even a guru from a previous existence.

I can only say that Ganeshpuri felt like the most natural place on earth. There was only what was real and no unreal, no pretending. And I lost my mind. God madness is good madness.

See if you can make sense of that. I’m only just getting my head around it.

I know now why Bhagavan Nityananda did not speak or convey teachings. How can you sustain a normal conversation for longer than a few minutes in that place? It is too easy to slip away.

This week I found that my spiritual name is a name of Lord Krishna, I like it, thanks Guruji.

Steadily I’m coming down to earth and the more unreal it seems that all of this happens. But I’m not worried. I have a deep faith in God.

I am not concerned with the fluctuations of my waking mind.

It’s said that we lose the feeling of Ganeshpuri when we return to Australia.  I say to that, ‘so what–why should I care?’ If it is that natural then it’s the way it is supposed to be.

Funny! I had this idea that I once lived in or close to Ganeshpuri as a Muslim. The place felt as comfortable as a childhood place I left and then returned to later in life. There was a strong sense of familiarity about the place.

Inshallah!

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Arunachala, the mountain Ramana Maharshi worshipped.

Arunachala.

Sri Ramana is the gentlest of souls. Truly the love and peace of this place is at first too much. Juxtaposed is the power of the mountain [Arunachala] which exudes Shakti.

But unlike Ganeshpuri where the Shakti is like a constant earthquake. And the spirit world is immediate. Ramana Ashram is the perfect cure for this power and turmoil and madness.

But as time went by the turmoil settles like dirt in a jar of agitated water. And the peace of the place becomes apparent in oneself.

Enough for now. God bless. With love.

The Fountain of Grace

The swish of the broom lingers on the edge of my mind as I sit to meditate with Bhagawan. I look up and the temple sweeper, an elderly Indian woman, slightly bent from ageing, casually dusts the carpets in the early morning. One hand is on the broom and one is resting comfortably on her back. I imagine the silent prayers to Bhagawan she speaks as she does her work. Thousands and thousands pairs of feet have walked through this temple seeking Guru’s grace. I am fortunate to be one of them.

Everything is impermanent said the Buddha. There is nothing in the outer world that remains stable, or lasts forever. But here, in Ganeshpuri, the Shakti is the same. Shiva is the same. Bhagawan is the same; Muktananda is the same. That Consciousness never changes. This temple is a refuge, a well from which devotees can sip the deepest waters.

Mandagni Mountain stands as a custodian of the Tansa valley and the village. Mandagni seems ancient. As Kailas is to Shiva, as Arunachala is to Ramana Maharshi, Mandagni is to Guruji. During his years with Baba he saluted its majesty every day.

The valley is mysterious. Legend says that sages did fire ceremonies here and that the Pandava princes stayed here when they were in exile. And even with the smoke from the brick factories, the stench of human excrement, the physical tapasya, the heat and dust it is the most magical place I have ever visited. Discomfort disappears in the presence of Bhagawan whose aura of purity and Shakti sanctifies the valley. The Shakti and peace of the mountain is apparent.

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Tansa River and Valley

A few years ago I was inspired to climb Mandagni when a local swami told me there was a cave two thirds of the way up where Bhagawan meditated. Once a volcano, its cliffs are lava covered and the heat from its former eruptions fuel the hot springs.

Baba once said that celibate cobras with jewels in their foreheads lived there, as well as leopards, meditating yogis and other wild creatures. I saw none of that but the cave is there and it is a cozy nook for meditation. Someone has put a small statue of Bhagawan and built a yagna pit. I could imagine Bhagawan and other yogis meditating there.

One morning Guruji said, ‘we are fortunate to be here in the fountain of grace. For those whose hearts are open to the Guru will experience the love and Shakti of my Guru and my Paramaguru. I am blessed, we are blessed; devotees of the Guru are blessed.’

‘Also,’ he said, ‘any day you can sit under Mandagni Mountain is a good day.’

 

Take Refuge In A Siddha

Ganeshpuri February 2017

Our Ganeshpuri Retreat is in full swing. This tiny village is a source, a wellspring of Shakti, a doorway to higher Consciousness.

A few days ago we had a Guru puja, the beginning of a process of initiation into the siddha lineage for seven worthy seekers who are devoted to the teachings, sadhana and the Guru’s work. All of the initiates have said they feel a calling to serve the Guru.

Ganapati Levine and Renuka, took sannyas; Vani and Janaka Stanford took a Shiva/Shakti initiation. Gargi and Ramana took a Lineage initiation. LeRoi Zavier, from California (in absentia) was also included. As part of the ceremony they received new names. Ganapati is Swami Ganeshananda, Renuka is Swami Paramananda, Vani is Yogini Sri Vani Ma, Janaka is now Yogi Sri Janaka, Gargi is Sri Gargi Saraswati and Ramana is Sri Ramana Saraswati. LaRoi is now Swami Sahajananda.

Guruji said that the greatest initiation is Shaktipat from a siddha guru. ‘No one should feel jealous of the initiates. Their initiation belongs to all of us. We share in their process. We are fortunate to be a part of this great path, the great power of the Kundalini Shakti and to be connected to Bhagawan Nityananda and Baba Muktananda. If you are jealous maybe it means you need to take a step like this.’

In the morning Santosh, the Brahmin priest from Vajreshwari led us through the puja with his usual skill saying that it is a great honor to be connected to the lineage and serve the Guru. To do Baba’s work is a calling from the siddhas. Guruji later said that God looks for hearts that are open so they can do His work.

That afternoon Guruji spoke about sadhana and pledging ourselves to the path. He said that when he took sannyas he was overwhelmed by love and gratitude that he was taken into something greater than his individuality, that he was absorbed in the great ocean of divinity.

Quoting from a talk Baba gave in 1981 before returning to India Guruji said that Baba encouraged everyone to ‘remember the Self, remember the mantra, take refuge in the Guru and the Satsang’:

As long as you don’t have the knowledge of the Self this appears as a mere world. But once you have knowledge of the Self, this is no longer a mere world; it is the play of Consciousness. This is the path of equality. Understand that whenever you oppose somebody you are actually opposing yourself. Everyone is the child of the Lord.

When everything is Consciousness, how can you say, “this is high, and that is low? How can you say, this is good and that is bad? What person can you reject saying he is bad? What person can you accept saying he is good? When everything is one, everything is your own Self.

This world originated from siddhas. Whoever follows the siddha path can become a siddha. If you have the awareness of oneness, seeing God in each other, you won’t have emotions like hatred, anger, enmity, jealousy or envy. Hold the awareness siddha sharanam gachchhaami—I take refuge in a siddha. Only when you take complete refuge in your Guru can you draw the Shakti, the power of the lineage of siddhas.’

In the early morning Guruji completed the sannyas and initiation ceremony. The swamis went symbolically to the river and renounced the three worlds, the attachments that bind them to the material plane. They then walked north towards the Himalayas. Guruji called them back and asked them to serve humanity. They agreed.

All the initiates gathered on the verandah and we watched as Guruji covered his head and theirs with a silk shawl Baba had used in a sannyas ceremony in Gurudev Siddha Peeth which he later gave to Guruji. Guruji whispered a mantra and a new name to each initiate.

There was a feeling of stillness in the atmosphere, a sudden quiet as though Ganeshpuri itself was honoring this moment.

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 them, 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.

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.

Alone With Bhagavan

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Bhagavan’s samadi, Ganeshpuri, India

When I feel overwhelmed by work I often imagine myself sitting by a river with nothing to do but meditate, alone. The river Tansa is nearby and I realize I have been given a cherished wish.

I wake up early and meditate outside on the veranda. The mornings are cool and I rug up in shawls. Sounds of creatures waking are abuzz: Arati bells ringing, crows cawing, roosters crowing, hens clucking, kites screeching and woodpeckers pecking. Sudarshan the new cook at Kothavala, who lost his parents when he was young, has adopted Guruji and I as his spiritual mother and father. He chants mantras as he brings chai and biscuits. I breathe in the atmosphere. This is where I want to be.

At 7:00AM I head for Kailas and meditate in one of Bhagawan’s many bedrooms, which is only open in the morning. I take darshan of his funky chair and head for the temple. Shop owners are quiet, not yet hawking their wares. The chai stalls are opening but each has their own takers. The same faces are there every morning. The rest of the day my routine includes chatting with people, Arati, lunch, rest, writing, dinner, hot baths, arati at the temple and sleep. Many villagers are surprised I am here alone and wonder if I am okay. I find myself getting to know some more intimately. I like this inner movement of friendship. I relax into the tempo and find the days pass quickly.

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Mt Mandagni, Ganeshpuri

Bhagavan’s Samadhi shrine is my favorite place to meditate during the day even though there are more comfortable and quiet spots. There is no logic to my preference. Devotees are chattering, children are running freely, bells are clanging, flower girls are shrieking, devotees are praying and priests are chanting. The outer world is busy, chaotic even, but inwardly I am blissful. Activity here arises from the highest Consciousness, undisturbed by disturbance. I imagine this is what it would have been like to be in his physical presence.

My sister is having some health problems and I decide to do a Guru Paduka puja (ceremony for the Guru’s sandals) for her in the Temple. I am concerned that I might be faced with a non-English speaking priest and decide to invite Indu, a village elder who spent much time with Bhagawan to join me. She speaks enough English to get me through the awkwardness of not understanding Hindi and the uneasiness of doing something wrong.

Indu, the priest and I will bathe Bhagawan’s sandals in milk and water from the natural hot springs, and then mark them with sandalwood paste, kum kum, tulsi leaves, ash, perfumed oil and flowers while mantras are chanted.

Indu’s company is calming. I find it humorous that my confidence wavers in the presence of the Brahmin priest Devidas. Guruji has nicknamed him Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, because he is tall, slim, and charismatic.  His devotional style, when waving the lights during Arati to Bhagavan, is flamboyantly artful and full of devotion. But here now, the language barrier inhibits my ability to connect with him. I cannot ask questions or chat.

Devidas begins by telling me that this day is a most auspicious day, more so than any other day I could have chosen. It is moksha ekadashi, the 11 day of the month of the waxing moon. To do a ceremony today means auspicious blessings, spiritual liberation, for my family and me. The puja is beautiful even though I inadvertently pour the hot water meant for Bhagavan’s sandals all over his lap. ‘Slow, slow’ he says.

As Devidas chants the mantras I embrace Bhagawan’s Shakti and give myself up to the power of this incredible Siddha’s grace. I tune in and the Temple sounds become a distant aum as I open to the moment. The murti in front of me is shimmering with Chiti. I am awed by the power of Shiva’s light.

The other side of Shiva, the dark, is never far away in India. That night I awaken to a puppy shrieking in pain. I vow to pack them up and smuggle them back to Australia. Or, I am going to start feeding them. Neither is possible. I tell myself that next time I am bringing a vet. Most dogs are uncared for and live on sugar treats thrown to them by pilgrims leaving the temples or scraps from the chai shops. Diabetes is not just for humans. Of course they procreate continually. Neuter a dog—it is unthinkable even for the educated.

At night there is the howling of animals being born and dying. How is it that the pleas for food and shelter can be ignored day after day? I could not live here without doing something about it. Guruji often jokes that it is good karma to be born a dog in the West and a cow in India, and bad karma to be born a dog in India and a cow in the West.

One Westerner, an American woman, has been living here for over 20 years. She feeds and tends numerous dogs and cats every day even though her finances are stretched. She is quite elderly, fragile and worries about who will take care of them when she is gone.

Everyone needs something. From a young man in a wheelchair, whose home is unsuitable, to another with five children under the age of eight whose house was washed away in the monsoon and now lives in a leaking tin roof hut—no plumbing of course. There is also a young man needing sinus surgery and a young girl who recently lost her mother and stays with her older sister. There are lots of children and most in need of some sort of medical attention. I cannot forget the line of beggars, who are fed by the Temple every day, but whose desire for human attention calls out to every passer by.

Then there is the problem of alcohol. Made locally it destroys the eyesight of devotees who worship at the palm shrine. Alcoholism is on the rise and there is no AA here. So too is drug addiction and HIV.  Garbage and sewage sprawl across roads and pathways. The stench is a constant. One person I meet suggests that India’s biggest mistake was to get rid of the British. By now, he says, they would have an infrastructure; sewage and garbage would be handled. And, there would not be a Pakistan.

My mind spins: I could do this; I could do that. I can get this; I can get that. But I know I can do little or nothing. I accept it all as it is, yet feel the anguish. I look away but I am not indifferent. I give myself permission to feel the pain of existential angst without despair. I have learned I can only help when God allows.

This is India. It can drive a weak mind mad. Heartless on the one hand with death barking at your heels every moment and yet full of the wonder of worship of God. My thoughts turn to home and contemplate how to hold onto this particular experience of the Shakti.

In the early morning I sit on the porch and watch the sun rise. The village is still in the early hours. Soft noises of awakening do not disturb my meditation. I wait for chai and biscuits in awe of the blessings that flow from Bhagawan Nityananda. I am in the mind of Shiva, dark and light emanating from his mystical heart. Mother India clasped me to her breast and fed me her soul. I don’t believe there is another place on the planet quite like this. This is 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.