Some thoughts on love.

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

Baba Muktananda

Baba with his cook Chandra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Layla and Majnu in the palace.

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

An eccentric poet, Majnu becomes known as a madman.

Majnu writes:

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

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

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

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

Agape or Charity

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

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

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

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

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.

I am neither a beggar nor a king.

I am neither a beggar nor a king.

Every Saturday evening in Satsang Swamiji gives teachings from his favourite great beings.  These great beings have much in common even though their paths vary. Some focus on the wisdom aspect of yoga, some on devotion, some on meditation, some on service and some on intense practice. But, they all have one thing in common. They emphasise knowing the Self and loving and accepting ourselves.

During these programs the devotees come up to greet both of us. Traditionally this is called darshan. I think of it as saying hello and if blessings or shakti is transmitted it is by the miracle of Guru’s grace. I receive something too–lots of love and joy. No small thing in a world beset by desires that cannot be assuaged by love.

Often I meet people who haven’t come to Satsang in a while and I ask, ‘where have you been’. Very often they answer ‘I have been in a bad space. I have been hating myself. I have felt unworthy.’

Surprising answers and ones that give me pause and tear at my heart. I encourage them to come when they feel that way knowing that Satsang will put them in touch with the Shakti which will ease their suffering.

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Darshan is always uplifting.

Self-hatred is a poison, it is our worst enemy spiritually and personally. It is the most debilitating thinking the mind creates.

The other day an ashramite came to see me and said, ‘I hate myself, I never feel good enough.’ I immediately thought of Swamiji’s story about an answer to a question he asked Baba during his time in Ganeshpuri in the seventies. His ego was troubling him. He was having thoughts that depleted his shakti and hurt him. Baba said, ‘Do not think you are a king or a beggar. Think, “I am Shiva; I am the Self.”

Swamiji’s demand is that we hold to the space of the Self. As he says, ‘the clear space of good feeling.’ Or, as Bhagavan says, bhavano rakho, maintain the good feeling. Swamiji encourages us to forgive every slight, every hurt, every pain, in every moment. Inwardly we let go of the temptation to blame and attack others for what they didn’t say to us, or give us, didn’t treat us well enough or honour us enough. When we cannot let go of this thinking love turns to poison within. And, in this state the mind creates good reasons to escalate enmity.

To watch someone in the grip of hatred, whether of themselves or another is painful, hurtful and frustrating. When people turn away from the Guru, from the Self, from Satsang it is as painful for the ones who are left as it is for the one leaving.

The heartbreak is especially poignant when that person has been a loving and close companion for many years. How is it that a mind can turn negative so quickly and without warning? How is it that someone who said they love you suddenly becomes an enemy? How is it that love suddenly turns to judgment? This is a great mystery.

To maintain good feeling sounds simple, but after all these years of sadhana I see that it is always possible to fall prey to a sense of unworthiness. Just because we have been meditating and doing practices for years we can still be vulnerable to destructive behaviour and negative thinking.

Bhagavan Nityananda once said, ‘it’s all dust!’ In time the material world, including our bodies become dust. I think he is reminding us that nothing is worth fighting about. To focus on that which is peaceful and loving and not on dissatisfaction requires a commitment to our own loving heart. Instead of venting anger we hold to a higher value like compassion and wisdom. I have always held the Guru as a beacon of love that never fades, never withdraws, and never wavers.

We will confront events that seem unforgivable, or that do not bring peace. These events  destabilise our life and relationships. If we succumb to the pain and do not dissolve it into Consciousness then we get stuck in the moment the pain happened, forever frozen in a memory of suffering.

The great beings forgive the unforgivable. It is their power of unconditional love that attracts weary and broken hearted seekers. They hold to that which is eternal, loving and wise. Their interests are not of this world but the world of Consciousness. They are not concerned whether a person is high born or not, whether a person is rich or poor, whether a person is sick or well, whether a person is the ‘right type.’ They are only interested in the spiritual well-being of each individual that comes before them. To see, hear and watch how the great beings love, teaches us to love the same way.

Swami Muktananda writes poetically on love:

Just as the earth remains the same no matter who comes and goes on it, so true love remains unchanging and independent. Love penetrates your entire being. Love is Consciousness.