The mystery of how Shakti is transmitted continues to amaze me. And even though the great beings say, ‘the Guru is not the body’, it is hard to believe when missing Satsang. Viewers are writing from all over the world that our Online Intensives, Courses and Workshops carry the Shakti of Guru’s grace and continue to awaken, sustain and uplift them.
It is a miracle of Guru’s grace that the feeling of oneness with the Self, the Guru and fellow devotees is not limited to our physical presence. Of course, for the bhaktas, being with the Guru is much preferred. But, in these times, with these disciplines, with this distance, the Shakti dances and flows through the camera.
This essay is from a talk I gave at a program called “Women Saints” held at the National Gallery of Victoria. I have always felt an affinity with the poet saint, Akkamahadevi. She symbolises intense spiritual passion and strong will which are needed to overcome suffering. Akka, as she is affectionately called, has many of the qualities of a modern feminist and yet she was completely surrendered to her Guru. This is perhaps an uncomfortable conundrum, nonetheless one she handled with wisdom and devotion.
Akka writes of her mortal life:
I love the Handsome One; He has no death, decay nor form, no peace or side, no end nor birthmarks.I love Him, O mother, listen! I love the beautiful one With no bond nor fear, no clan no land or landmarks for his beauty. My Lord white as jasmine, is my husband. Take these husbands who die and decay, Feed them to your kitchen fires!
The beauty, strength, passion and spiritual determination of this poem are the signatures of one of India’s greatest mystics, Akkamahadevi (Akka,(elder sister). They indicate her spiritual genius, her resolve, her strength of will and mumukshutva, longing for liberation. In her short life, nothing swayed her from her spiritual inclination, her yearning to merge with Lord Shiva, the husband of her soul.
Akkamahadevi was born into the liberal environment of Veera Shaivism in the 12th century, in the southern state of Karnataka to pious and devout parents. At that time, Veera Shaivism was a reform movement. The leaders were political and spiritual radicals. They aspired to direct communion with the divine, refusing to accept intermediaries who tampered with their worship and devotion. They wanted no intercession between God and His devotee.
The Veera Shaivites dissolved the caste system in their satsang, and when they gathered, all were required to work, eat, study and practice together. They built their community outside of society and developed a strong spirituality that is alive today. Most remarkably, in their households, daughters were given some of the same rights as sons. They were taught to read and write and were allowed to study scriptures. The Veera Shaivites were in direct spiritual and political rebellion against the orthodoxy of the Brahmin priests who held religious power.
Shiva, specifically in the form of the Shiva lingam, is the presiding deity of Veera Shaivism. The Shiva lingam is a cosmic symbol of the energies of the masculine, Shiva, and the feminine, Shakti. A lingam, a phallus, rests comfortably in a receptive yoni, vagina or womb. There is no doubt that the Shiva lingam is one of the most mystical and powerful spiritual symbols of any religion or spiritual path.
In the same way the union between husband and wife creates the world of the family, Shiva, the transcendent power of the masculine, and Shakti, the dynamic feminine power, unite to create the entire universe. Even though the erotic symbolism is hard to ignore, the Shiva lingam’s commanding presence signifies the love, power and magnificence of Shiva and Shakti united in the ecstasy of creation. Not only do they birth the world but they also live within every human being as spiritual potential. Shaivism says that human beings can awaken to that potential. When these two powers are kindled within a person, life becomes magical.
By the age of nine, Akka had learned to read and write. She had learned the tenets of her faith from the family Guru. She would have been taught that God lived within her as a dormant spiritual power. It was possible to experience Him, know Him and realise Him, and dissolving all sense of separation it was possible to merge in Him. Her unique spiritual gifts were apparent and she quickly became attached to the Shiva lingam, Chennamallikarjuna, in the temple at Sri Shailam.
Shiva, the Lord of her poems, is referred to as “my Lord, white as jasmine” or “jasmine-tender” by two translators of her poems, A.K. Ramanuja and Vinaya Chaitanya. He is also called Consciousness, the Absolute, the Atman, the inner Self, or God. He personifies wisdom, love and creative power, a way to transcend the mundane and attain liberation. But her devotion was not only impersonal; He was the beloved of her heart.
The hagiography of Indian saints generally disregards, even erases, the personal history and struggle of its great beings. But in Akkamahadevi we find a spirit unafraid, determined to speak her mind, regardless what others may think of her. She has a modern sensibility; she left a record of her struggle. Her journal of over 300 vacanas (poems, ‘giving of words’), describes both her worldly life and her spiritual struggle. The revelation of her yearnings, likes and dislikes, passion, failures, triumphs, shame, doubt and tragedies, is testimony to her greatness of character and spirit, and renunciation.
From her early writings we learn that she had an experience of divinity at her initiation or soon afterward. It must have been then that she realized that she would never be content in householder life. Her awakening to knowledge of Shiva inspired a burning desire to live permanently in that experience. She shares that she tasted ecstasy; perfect love and then it vanished. In the losing and the yearning to reclaim it, the eluding and the seeking it, the Shiva lingam became deeply personal. It symbolized the husband and lover of her spiritual life, the divine energy working perfectly within her, and a doorway to unconditional love. Even though she was still a child, her spiritual intuition was that of an adult. She was doggedly determined to achieve resolution between her inner and outer life. Of her yearning she writes:
I look at the road for his coming. If he isn’t coming, I pine and waste away. If he is late, I grow lean. O mother, if he is away for a night, I’m like the lovebird with nothing in her embrace.
Even today many Hindu marriages are arranged, and back then there was certainly no room for personal preference. It was not unusual for women to speak of their longing and sorrow in erotic terms. They turned yearning for personal love towards God. Perhaps this is why we find so many different gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. There is a deity, a beloved, for every type of spiritual attitude.
Akka’s spiritual journey passed through various stages: devotional worship, pain of separation from God, meeting her Guru, awakening, sadhana, practices to overcome suffering and then realization of permanent oneness with Shiva.
To have the ecstasy of God’s love and then lose it is one of the most painful experiences in life. When Akka felt separate from God it hit her with full force. She recorded her torment with insight, humility and passion. Clearly she was an unusual soul. Commenting on the burden of pain and on karma, reincarnation, countless births and deaths she writes:
Not one, not two, not three or four but through eighty-four hundred thousand vaginas have I come, I have come through unlikely worlds, guzzled on pleasure and on pain. Whatever be, all previous lives, Show me mercy, this one day,O Lord white as jasmine.
Her biographers say she was intelligent, charming and extremely beautiful. Legend tells us that one afternoon her parents took her to a parade and the local Jain king—or village chieftain—Kaushika, saw her and was besotted. He asked for her hand in marriage and she refused. In her mind she was already Shiva’s bride.
Akka’s writings show her to be willful, emotional and headstrong. Her parents were progressive thinkers and might not have been displeased by his pursuit. Though a Jain, he was rich and powerful. They may even have felt a desire, or a relief for her to be settled.
As Kaushika’s advances intensified she took refuge in the avenue that was open to her—writing. She refused his marriage suit and in response he threatened her parents. Since non-violence is one of the basic tenets of the Jain religion, Kaushika’s love for her must have been obsessive. When her parents confronted her with his demand, she acquiesced to marriage grudgingly, knowing full well how this union would affect her.
Thus began the most painful time in her life. She felt alone, abandoned and misunderstood. She was certain that only Shiva knew the depth of her despair and spiritual longing. For her there was only one husband, Him, no other. To make matters worse, Kaushika was not a Shaivite. But, if Shiva was everything then He was also the cause of her impending marriage, her destiny. She turned to her Lord but the sound of blame vibrates in her words:
The owl blames the sun for its blindness, The crow blames the moon for its blindness, The blind blames the mirror for his blindness, All this is true. While suffering the hell fires of becoming, If one says there is no Shiva, No liberation, it is all a lie, Will Channamallikarjuna, jasmine-tender, Spare you the suffering of hell?
We do not know her exact age when she married, but we can assume she was between 13 and 16. She agreed on the condition that Kaushika made her three promises. If he broke them she would be free. She was clear-headed even at this young age. He agreed to allow her to spend time with her Guru and devotees, to allow her to meditate and to allow her worship of Shiva.
And so she married.
Being a Hindu bride she was required to leave the safe haven of her parents and live with her in-laws. Her husband desired her passionately but her spiritual nature is repelled. She was frustrated that she could not attain full communion with her husband. Perhaps if he had been a different sort of man they might have been able to live happily. Her husband’s family were also worldly and without spiritual inclination. In a short time Kaushika broke his promises. Appalled her husbands’ lustful advances she writes:
You came with no hesitation, O brother, As the form was pleasing to your eyes. You came deluded by a pleasure you heard of, You came lusting after the female form. Not seeing that it is only a tube from which piss drips you came, O brother, blinded by desire. Driving away supreme bliss by perverted intelligence, Not knowing why this is so, Mind not realizing this as the source of pain You came, O brother. Men other than Channamallikarjuna, jasmine-tender, Are brothers to me; Off, get off, you fool.
Her love of God was no match for her husband or her in-laws. In a fit of anger and rebellion she took off all her clothes and headed for Kalyan, a long and dangerous journey for a beautiful woman on foot. Her nakedness was a public declaration of her determination to leave her life and never return. In Kalyan, a Veera Shaivite ashram called “the Halls of Spiritual Experience” was in full bloom. The famous Veera Shaivite Guru, Basava, was the Guru of the ashram.
As she arrived she immediately encountered Basava who questioned her renunciation. That she has covered her nakedness with her hair made her sincerity questionable. He thought that she might not have been a serious seeker. She pleaded her case saying that Chennamallikarjuna had already taken her as a bride and that she covered herself because she was afraid her nakedness would embarrass him. Basava recognized her spiritual genius and allowed her to enter the ashram. In him she found a mentor and Guru.
Here her biography becomes sketchy and we only have her poems to reveal her progress. Now the second phase of her journey—discipleship began. She entered the ashram determined to attain liberation while in her body. Her renunciation was remarkable. She was more than an intoxicated lover of Shiva, her intellect was as sharp as the razor’s edge. She was endowed with discrimination and an ability to determine the real from the unreal. She would have none of the pleasure, status or pride that came with wealth and worldly power. She was immune to mundane love and compelled by love of God to seek liberation.
The Shaivite Gurus have the ability to awaken the Kundalini, the dormant spiritual energy. Once awakening occurs meditation and spiritual practices become easier. It not only connects us to the experience of the inner Self, it sustains it as well. And so, Basava spiritually nourished her.
The willful young girl accepted her Guru’s discipline and settled down to yogic practice. In Basava she recognized a sage of the highest attainment. Discipleship to him would enable her to become established in the experience of Shiva.
It was like a stream running into the dry bed of a lake, like rain pouring on plants parched to sticks. It was like this world’s pleasure and the way to the other, both walking towards me. Seeing the feet of the master, O lord white as jasmine, I was made worthwhile.
Sadhana, spiritual practice, the third phase of her journey began. She meditated, contemplated and studied scriptures. No longer a queen, she also did menial tasks. So far she had been projecting her love outward toward the lingam, or towards an impersonal God. The Guru taught her to take her longing and devotion inward, and use it to understand herself. She could no longer blame her husband, her parents and her in-laws. She had created a circumstance in which she must face the tendencies of her own mind:
Lord, see my mind touches you, Yet doesn’t reach you; My mind is troubled. Like a toll-keeper at the city gates, My mind is unhappy. It cannot become empty Forgetting duality. Show me how you can become me, O Chennamallikarjuna, jasmine-tender.
Her sadhana did not always go at the speed she wanted. She was confronted by inner demons—anger, desire, fear and sorrow. Her determination was apparent. Her will to overcome ignorance drove her in her quest to realise the Atman, the inner Self, and she acknowledged how difficult she finds her path. Filled with self-hatred she lashes out at herself:
I the child born of the love between the possible and the impossible, Have made a wager with the world; I have chained by their feet Desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride and strife. Wafting the scent of the Guru’s grace, Wearing devotion for a beauty spot I’ll defeat and kill you With devotion to the auspicious one with sword. Leave, let go karma, I won’t stop till I’ve slain you. Do not get destroyed, listen to my words. Buying the sword of devotion to Shiva, I’ll fight and slay you. Breaking the fetters that Brahma bound, Shoving aside the maya of Vishnu, I will give battle; just wait till, Chennamallikarjuna, jasmine-tender, nods his head.
Aspiration to the divine is sacred. The crux of sadhana is to know oneself fully. To face the maya, the ignorance in oneself is painful. In meditation she discovered that the tendencies that block her relationship to the divine are within her, not outside of her. Attachment and aversion had played around her senses. The consequences of all of her actions lay buried in her unconscious. Basava helped her navigate the psychic realm of negative thoughts and feelings. He taught her to become conscious of how she contributed to her own suffering. She faced the inner enemies of lust, envy, desire, anger, fear, and depression. She observed their movement in her mind. In meditation she distinguished between negative emotions and the bliss of the Self. She learned to move away from negativity and not allow it to manifest in her inner world:
Till you’ve earned knowledge of good and evil it is lust’s body site of rage, ambush of greed, house of passion, fence of pride, mask of envy. Till you know and lose this knowing, You have no way of knowing, My Lord, white as jasmine.
As her sadhana progressed, she was less haunted by the sense of separation. She spent more time in communion with the Self and less in spiritual frustration. After a few years she went to Sri Shailam, the home of Chennamallikarjuna. It was there that she attained liberation and annihilated her sense of duality. She burned up all obstacles in the fire of her practice. She merged permanently with her ‘Lord, white as jasmine’.
Now her poems reflect her attainment. Looking back at her journey she saw that her desires bound her to suffering and always left a bitter taste. They kept her separate from the Self and stood in the way of her ultimate goal—unconditional love and communion with God:
I overcame the trouble of the body, through the worship. Overcame the trouble of the mind, through wisdom, Overcame the trouble of separation, through Shiva’s grace, Overcame the darkness of the organs, Clothing myself in light. What your eyes see outside in the glow of youth Is really the ash of the burnt god of desire-Kama. O Lord white as jasmine, You killed Kama, yet let himRemain mind born; I have wiped out his destiny.
She has mastered her negative tendencies. Her understanding was transformed into wisdom for she had achieved the power to move away from desire and fear, the two enemies of Self-realisation. They were the cause of her sense of separateness. Guru’s grace had burnt them to seeds that could no longer sprout and cause her pain. Even if they occasionally played in her mind she was not tempted to fan their flames.
Akkamahadevi is an archetype. She represents the search for happiness, fulfillment and purpose familiar to us all. She struggled with her body, her personhood, her feelings and thoughts, her love of God, and her desire to be free of social and family obligations. She passionately sought union with the Absolute. In her realization she stands as a symbol of divinity and offers us a blessing and grace. She gives us the gift of her teachings in a body of work that we can study and contemplate.
When the pain our own mundane struggles hit us, she inspires us to turn our hearts and minds toward God. We can take refuge in the sublime teachings of the Sanatana Dharma. We can pray for the grace of God. We can turn to the great beings, sages and saints in our tradition. We can call on the compassion, power and wisdom of the Self.
When we turn away from fear and desire, we are able to, like the great mystic Akkamahadevi, uplift ourselves, our dear ones, and humanity.
Born in this world I follow the way of the world. Possessing a form, I go with the form. I am involved physically in this world, But in my mind I have forgotten it. Like a burnt rope, I still keep the form, O my Lord Cennamallikarjuna, Being one of the eleven, I am like a lotus in the water.
Recorded at The Mount Eliza Ashram on Tuesday, April 14th 2020.
Swami Shankarananda holds a regular study group program in the Ashram. In the most recent study group Devi Ma (or others) read from his book ‘Consciousness Is Everything’, taking participants through a short course on Kashmir Shaivism. ‘Consciousness’ is often referred to as the handbook for Shaivism.
In this excerpt of a video clip Swamiji comments on the universal aspects of the divine, Shiva and Shakti that are present within everyone and everything. Shiva is the inner Self, the foundation of everything and Shakti is the energy of creativity who dances and plays on His being. He focused on inner narratives. He said that there are always two narratives, two voices going on within us all the time.
One is the voice of Shiva that speaks to our highest Self. That voice encourages us to remember that we are the Self, we are Shiva. The other is the voice of our ‘tearing thoughts’ the voice that speaks our worst fears, judgements and criticisms. He emphasised that we can, with attention to those voices, learn to believe the higher narrative and discard the negative one.
At the end of the group Swamiji leads a beautiful contemplation on listening to a higher narrative, the voice of love.
Online programs are held several times a week with Swamiji and Devi Ma, including satsang, study group, meditation programs, Guru Gita chanting and more. These programs are available at Ashram Online weekly subscription.
A life-changing journey towards higher Consciousness.
In 1970, driven by search for purpose and meaning, a young New Yorker leaves his promising academic career to travel to India seeking yogic wisdom. After many adventures, he arrives at the feet of the great Siddha master Baba Muktananda, in the holy village of Ganeshpuri. Here, he experiences the awakening of the kundalini energy.
With enthusiasm, sincerity and candid self-reflection, Swami Shankarananda depicts his profound relationship with his Guru and the inner voyage of his transformation. He takes the reader on a mystic journey in which he does battle with his ego and his own negative tendencies and connects with the inner divine energy. Under Baba’s guidance he emerges from a twelve-year apprenticeship as a knower of the Self and a Guru in his own right.
Ganeshpuri Days is a beautifully written account path will inspire readers to awaken to the true Self and fulfil their highest potential.
Lately I have been having a taste of sahaja samadhi, what the yogis call the ‘natural state,’ a state of peace and happiness.
The sahaja state is evoked by the Zen adage, ‘before practicing Zen the mountains are mountains, the trees are trees and the rivers are rivers. During practice the mountains are no longer mountains, the trees are no longer trees, and the rivers are no longer rivers. After practice is complete the mountains are once again mountains, the trees are once again trees, and the rivers are once again rivers’.
Shaktipat for me was sudden, unexpected, amazing and magical. I momentarily felt enlightened when I received it. However, too quickly my karmas returned, and I was back to normal. But normal was radically different. No matter what happened I knew, without a doubt, that I had a Self, that there was an eternal space within me.
Before we meet the Guru and begin spiritual practice, we have many fixed beliefs, values and opinions that are in the way of being receptive to the Guru and the teachings. They show up as inner resistance as a new paradigm arises. We may cling to thoughts and reactions that served us in the world, but do not serve us in the company of the Guru. Or, perhaps they didn’t really serve us in our life, which is why we turned to spirituality.
As a new sadhaka we don’t really have a clue as to what discipleship is. Swamiji often refers to sadhana as, in Gurdjieff’s term, ‘conscious suffering’. If we don’t begin to pay attention to the inner world by means of yoga, life has a way of presenting difficulties to get our attention. Sadhana, spiritual practice, comes into conflict with everything we thought was true. The friction between what we thought was true and what is actually true spiritually, is the burning ground of sadhana. And to get anywhere spiritually this burning must happen.
At a certain point after experimenting with spiritual ideas to see what is true and what is not, we relax into acceptance. True in the spiritual sense is to renounce thoughts and feelings that take us far from the Self, the Guru, and the Shakti. After a while the friction eases into a sense of knowing. When this surrender happens, we begin to live more peacefully.
Peace for me comes from remembering the Guru’s feet. The Guru is the fountain of grace and blessings in my life. I know that to take myself away from this grace would court a kind of spiritual death. And so, no matter how difficult the inner and outer challenges are, I vowed to stay with the Guru until death.
At a certain difficult moment, I saw that in too many lives, there were lost opportunities to overcome my negative tendencies. I ran away too many times in the hope that I would avoid the pain that leads to overcoming deep unconscious angst. I saw that running away inwardly was an attempt to punish another person. But the result was that I only punished myself.
I promised myself that in this life, I would not run, nor hide, nor use anger to destroy love anymore. Instead, this time, I dedicated myself to the Guru, to the highest principle. I recall the feeling I had when I received Shaktipat, the utter awe and gratitude to have found the Guru, this divine lineage and the magic of feeling alive with Shakti.
I don’t claim to be ‘enlightened’. However, Guru’s grace has taken away the heartbreaking burdens I carried, and I am much lighter for it. I am no longer weighed down or confused by anger and frustration, fear or grief. In the past when situations upset me, my heart became heavy with negative emotion. And, there were many times when the sadness seemed unbearable. But always, when I turned to God, Guru’s grace appeared and dissolved the pain. I could once again connect with the Self.
Now when I am agitated, I sit with myself and watch the feelings and thoughts move through me until my mind becomes quiet. To witness this inner play as it arises brings great joy and relief. The desire to act out of negative emotion no longer controls my life. And when unhealthy thoughts intrude sometimes, I meditate and watch the play.
In my early 20s, before I met the Guru, I was plagued by self-doubt. I could not find my place in the world. One day, with a little help from a magic mushroom, I had a powerful insight. I saw how my mind created all my suffering and that there was nothing essentially wrong with me. I was so inspired that I bought my first spiritual book by Swami Ramacharaka.
But after reading the book I could not hold onto, understand or apply the insight to my life. It was only when I received Shaktipat did my mind and my relationship to the world begin to make sense.
If you were to ask me how I achieved peace, I would probably say, ‘I’m not sure’. Over time, sadhana, perseverance and love, the boiling cauldron of my emotions calmed down. I could say that ‘it just happened’ but I know that I have worked hard spiritually to rid myself of everything that was in the way of my connection with the Self. If my mind becomes disturbed, I inquire, I meditate or say the mantra. My mind now has a habit of restoring peace, not inflaming negativity.
When the Mt Eliza Ashram was established it became the testing ground for my sadhana. My relationships with the Ashramites were food for my negative tendencies. Even though the Ashramites were assigned to seva, things were often left undone. I became annoyed when faced with a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes, or the garbage overflowing onto the floor, or the phone left unanswered, or the carpet was dirty, or the lawn out of control. Or, when flowers I planted in the garden were pulled up because someone thought they were weeds. I became upset when food was left in bedrooms for days or left out to go bad. I got upset and angry when lights were left on, or the door left open with the heat blasting. I became impatient when I asked someone to do something and it was put off for days. I had to ask people over and over to do the dishes, sweep the floor, close the doors, etc. I became resentful and resentment grew into anger.
It is well known Ashram lore that the seva or Ashram managers often take the heat for most practical matters when things go wrong. No matter how much a person wants to live in an Ashram, most people resist being told what to do, especially if they think the work is beneath them or that they have more important things to do.
Many times, Ashramites ran to Swamiji complaining that I was unfair or too harsh. He received feedback from others about what they did not like about me, and in turn passed it onto me. He never divulged who told him what, which infuriated me. Or he would tell me to ‘work on my relationship’, which enraged me even more. I felt hurt and misunderstood. At one point my anger became so intolerable, I wanted to leave. I did not want to live my life in constant conflict with others. Then I remembered Swamiji’s teaching on four things to do in a bad situation:
Change the inner world.
Change the outer world.
Whinge—whine and complain.
Leaving wasn’t an option; I could not change the outer, the Ashramites. Of course, when it is not about changing other people, doing something in the outer world is possible. I considered giving up asking people to do things, but I cannot stand chaos or mess, and knew that was not a real possibility. So instead of complaining to myself, I decided to work on the inner.
Swamiji’s highest value, since I have known him, was and is, to put harmonious loving relationships ahead of practical issues–much to my annoyance. For him a person’s spiritual well-being was, and is, way more important than ‘getting things done’. He has never said that, but I am aware that his relationships were based on educating and teaching his students with compassion and patience.
I decided to try Swamiji’s way. I began to care more about having a loving conflict free inner state, than getting things done. Eventually, I stopped letting practical matters override harmonious relationships. My discipline was to watch my inner response with each person and to not indulge anger. I became more flexible and my life became more harmonious.
Anger shatters the natural loving relationship with others. When I remember the Self, natural flow and harmony is restored. I changed to a more collaborative management style and gave up the frustrating authoritative style.
Baba Muktananda writes:
A person should forget his delusion and meditate on his own Self. There are only two ways to live: one is with constant conflict, and the other is with surrender. No victory can be won in life through conflict. Conflict only leads to anguish and suffering; no one has ever seen a person attain anything else from it. But when someone surrenders with understanding and equanimity, his house, hands and heart become full. His former feeling of emptiness and lack disappears, and his shortcomings are eliminated.
The Perfect Relationship, page 32
In the past I often became disheartened when I read spiritual texts that describe Self-realisation. It was hard not to compare my inner state to the descriptions in texts. I criticised myself terribly. When Swamiji came up with the idea of ‘tearing thoughts’, destructive thoughts that attack the thinker and undermine confidence I began to get a clearer picture that my mind was the solution, like my original insight told me. As long as I did not attack others or myself, the Self would shine.
In his memoirs Swamiji writes:
Sadhana is a different kind of education – I call it second [classical] education; normal academic education being first education. In sadhana we don’t seek to increase our knowledge or even our intellectual understanding, as we do in first education, but we transform our being.
The Greek-Armenian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff made this felicitous distinction. He said that if our being is weak, then whatever intellectual knowledge we have is not operational.
In sadhana one works on being by improving philosophical understanding certainly, but also by strengthening the emotions and getting rid of tearing thoughts, those negative thought that tear into the thinker himself.
Being refers to the affective part of our nature. If our emotions are weak, making us vulnerable to anger, jealousy, fear, and despair and the like, then our spiritual understanding is vitiated, and we lose our power.
Ganeshpuri Days: Memoirs of a Western Yogi page xxix
I then understood that my angst and separation from the Self came from ‘tearing thoughts’. Underneath my anger, hurt or fear, was a feeling of unworthiness. The only way to stop tearing thoughts was to pay more attention to my being and not my negative reactions. I learned to shift my attention from the small self, the ego, to the big Self. I stopped fighting with myself, and therefore stopped fighting with others, most of the time.
Certain conversations can still hurt, cause anger or disappointment, but I am not inclined to follow them to hell. I hold to the promise I made to myself, to remember the Self.
Baba told me on three different occasions, ‘don’t love specifically, learn to love universally’. This was his greatest gift to me, besides Shaktipat. One teaching or command from a Siddha Guru is enough for a lifetime. I have understood that to love universally is to love without desire. It is desire that contaminates love. And so, to be free of contamination is to renounce preferences, likes and dislikes, and to see everything as the play of Consciousness.
Baba Muktananda writes:
Love the mind, but even before you love it, stop thinking of it as the mind. Regard it as the Goddess Chiti (cosmic energy) who is pulsating as the mind. Give up your antagonism to it and, establishing a true friendship with it, say, ‘Go to the inner Self.’ To think like this is actually meditation.
When you think of the mind as ordinary, when you are hostile to it, the mind conquers you. Therefore, to conquer the mind completely, you must love it. Love is a mantra of victory. It is the magnet that draws God to you. It is the Yagna (fire) that makes the mind intoxicated and joyful. Love has great power. It makes the impossible possible; it has the power to make the broken whole. Cease to think of yourself as small and petty. Fill yourselves with love, and you will see your own greatness.
My life is divided into before Ram Dass and after Ram Dass.
I met him at a small dinner party in Chicago in early 1970. For me, and for thousands of other young Westerners, he was a messenger from the East. He carried an amazing Shakti and told us of undreamt possibilities, of a potential within each of us, and of the existence of men and women who had realised that potential completely.
I became a Ram Dass junkie. I drove hundreds of miles to hear him speak. What an experience that was! He would strum his tamboura and close his eyes and slowly tell long, involved and wonderful stories. What nectar came from his lips. I had never heard anything like it. Listening to Ram Dass was a sublime pleasure. There were new feelings, new thoughts, new possibilities. It simply was the best thing ever.
In India we met his people by ‘chance’: Bhagavan Das, Krishna Das, Dan Goleman, and others. They introduced us to Ram Dass’ Guru Neem Karoli Baba and his teacher, Hari Dass Baba.
Later, we met up again with Ram Dass in Bodh Gaya. He invited us along with him and his group to travel to Delhi to meet his friend, the great yogi Baba Muktananda. In Delhi he introduced us to Baba. Ram Dass told Baba about me, “He’s my friend, he’s a professor” and after that Baba called me ‘professor’ for many months.
Ram Dass bought my VW (thereby closing a circle for me) and went off with Baba on a tour of South India. Meanwhile, he told me to visit Baba’s ashram in Ganeshpuri. He showed me the path, introduced me to my Guru, and encouraged me to stay with him and do sadhana. My gratitude to him is profound.
Ram Dass’ impact on Western spirituality cannot be overstated. There are thousands and thousands of stories like mine. He was a unique figure, equally endowed with wisdom and love. He poured Eastern wine into Western bottles, and no one did it better than he did. He was a great soul and I salute him and will always love him. It gives me pleasure to know that he is again at the feet of his beloved Guru.” – Swami Shankarananda
This is a share by a parent who uses Shiva Process discreetly to communicate with his children in ways that resolve conflict and upset in his family life.
Many of you are aware of a meditation practice we use here at the Ashram known as – Shiva Process. Shiva Process is a very effective method of Self- inquiry created by Swamiji and Devi Ma.
The process is brilliant at clearing negative feelings that turn up in our inner world. When I saw how well it works when I use it, I thought how great it would be, if everyone used it. But, that’s not how things are.
In Swamiji’s book on the Shiva Process, Self Inquiry, he writes about a way he has developed to assist people who do not know Shiva Process. He calls this technique the ‘The Avis Process’. It’s a way of helping people who do not know how to do the Shiva Process. It is perfect when communicating with people on the fly in day to day life. I think of it as ‘stealth’ Shiva Process.
When I use the Avis process I listen to the other person and try to get an understanding of what is going on for them. I reflect back to them what I hear and feel as they are speaking. If I sense they are burdened or worried, I might say, ‘ You must be so worried?’ Or, ‘you have a lot of responsibility’. If I sense they are upset, I say, ‘you sound upset,’ or, if I sense they are tired, I might say or ask, ‘Are you feeling tired?’
Around four years ago I really needed something to deal with my children. I have two young boys and a girl between seven and twelve. I remembered reading about the Avis Process. I decided to use my kids as guinea pigs to see if it worked. I was tentative at first, as it felt awkward. And, I had to resist my habit of wanting to correct them and give advice.
One of them might come to me upset and I would say, ‘Oh honey, you look so upset’. Another would get angry and I’d say, ‘What’s up, has something made you angry?’ or if they didn’t get something they wanted I would say – ‘You really wanted that ice-cream. Grown ups can be so frustrating?’
It worked! The kids responded brilliantly. The positive results blew my mind. All I had to do was shut my advice trap and let the statements do the work.
About two years after first beginning this practice, there was an encounter that summed up how effective it is. I was in the kitchen cleaning up. It was 8:00pm on a school night. It was a hot summer day and friends of the kids had been over swimming in our pool and had just left.
My two sons, Leo who was 9 at the time and Harvey who was 7 were in their bedrooms. I could hear them mucking around, playing in a way that seemed precarious. Leo was asking Harvey to stop and then I heard it get serious and then sounds of a real scuffle followed and then yelling, followed by crying.
A few seconds later Leonardo whizzed by, head down, avoiding eye contact with me, visibly upset and shot straight out the back door into the garden. I could see him through the glass doors pacing up and down looking very shaken up and full of guilt.
Harvey followed, sobbing and looking for me. I said, ‘what happened?’
He said, ‘I was playing with Leo on the bunk beds and I accidentally did a round house kick to his head and then he just punched me in the face.’
I said, ‘Oh my God, that must have really hurt?’ And he said, “Mega hurt dad!’
‘You must have got a big shock?
He said, ‘Yeah, well, he didn’t have to just hit me. My kick was an accident…because I rolled off the top bed down onto him and my foot lost control and hit him in the head. I was just playing and then he punched me, 100% on purpose, like Thor, right in the face.’
I said, ‘It’s ok, it’s not your fault,’ and then we hugged.
I said I’ll go speak to Leo.
So I walked outside to speak to Leo who was still pacing up and down – looking really worried and riddled with guilt. I said, ‘what happened?’ He didn’t answer – he just kept pacing.
I said, ‘you look really shaken up.’ Still, no answer. ‘You got really angry at Harvey?’ I asked. And then like a flood, he let it out.
‘Well yeah, Mum promised me earlier that I’d be able to watch the new Lego movie that just came out and then friends came over and they stayed longer than they were supposed to and then mum said I couldn’t watch the movie now because it was too late on a school night – and it’s not my fault they didn’t go on time – and I was really looking forward to the movie so I was already upset about that and then Harvey and I were playing and then he accidentally kicked me and then I don’t know what happened, I just punched him in the face.’
I said, ‘Oh God, you must feel terrible.’
And then he cried and hugged me and said ‘ I’m so sorry dad!’
I said, ’It’s ok, I love you mate.’
And then he said ‘I love you so much dad!’
I said, ‘Harvey is really upset too. He loves you a lot you know.’
He said, ‘I’ll go and say sorry.’
And then off he went and I watched through the glass doors as Leo went to Harvey and said sorry and they both hugged each other and trotted off like best buddies.
The entire episode lasted three minutes and my family had returned to love. I stood there in awe, so pleased with what had just happened. I felt just like Swamiji. Connecting with him, by using his teachings in this way is always uplifting. These days I Avis process all the time. It’s become more and more a part of the natural way I communicate.
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.
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.
CS 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.
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.
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.
To perform arati to the Guru is to perform the noblest sacrifice, the highest worship and the deepest meditation. To perform arati to the Guru is to also perform honour and worship to your own Self.
No matter what language we sing in, the prayer says, ‘O Lord, kindle my flame from your shining flame. If my lamp is not kindled within me, I will remain plunged in inner darkness. Only when you have kindled my lamp will this darkness go. O Lord, kindle my lamp.’
I was excited for weeks before this trip to Ganeshpuri. I had a sense this Retreat would be special. And, indeed it was. As we head off from the airport we fight our way through traffic.
Mumbai is expanding out towards this tiny village. Soon it seems, Ganeshpuri may become another suburb as this sprawling city swallows the surrounding countryside.
Hardly any plastic bags!!
The Prime Minister, Modi, has banned plastic bags from use in most shops. Hence, the smog and smoke is significantly less. I can breathe easier and am gratified by Modi’s intention to reduce pollution in India. It can’t be easy.
One of my first jobs as a young woman was to help establish one of the first Recycling Centres in Vancouver. But my life was soon taken over by the Guru and saving the planet took a back seat. Let’s hope it is not too late. Guruji always tells me, ‘have faith. Consciousness will find a solution for the ailing planet.’
As we entered the village there was a palpable magic in the air. The villagers: the temple priests, the shopkeepers, the Ammas, and the puppy dogs, all showered their devotion and love on Guruji and everyone with him. Whatever blocks might have appeared, did not.
The village has become Baba’s Ashram. The same Shakti that flowed into me on my first trip in 1978 now flows here. There is no outer world. There is only my inner world, brimming, overflowing with Guru’s grace. Baba Muktananda and Bhagavan Nityananda are present in every shop, on every street corner, in every Chai stall, in every breath and meditation.
The days were filled with activities: pujas, walks to the Ganesh Temple and various samadhi shrines, Satsang, darshan, Guru Gita, meditation, Shiva Process, and chilling out.
Near the end of the Retreat, Gulzar Naza and his Sufi Qawwali group rocked out with their beautiful chants and there were also special dosa cooks from Mumbai whose magic smells filled the air.
One afternoon Prasad, the temple priest, came for Guruji’s darshan. He asked Guruji, ‘Do you love Bhagavan?’ Guruji replied, ‘love is not quite the word. Do you love the air you breathe? Without it you can’t live. That is how I feel about Bhagavan.’
And, the Guru was the ‘air I breathe’.
I was in ecstasy the whole time and finding words to describe that joy is almost impossible. Without inner angst, finding something to say except, ‘I was happy,’ is perhaps less interesting than overcoming difficulty. But truthfully, there was no suffering. And, strangely enough, since September of last year, suffering has become a distant memory. I am the happiest that I have ever been. I have been fortunate to have had much bliss in my life. But this new happiness is steady, an undercurrent of joy that is constant. I attribute this to the tapasya of a lifetime. Of course, it is probable that difficulty will return at some point. But, for now I am basking in this boon from the Guru.
Doing the Guru’s work is a great joy and a path to stay connected to the Shakti. At some point in sadhana we may feel a pull to commit to share what we have learned with others. There can be a moment when we are called to give ourselves more fully to the teachings, the Guru and the Lineage. Guruji initiated three sanyasis—Atmaram and Kashi from Ann Arbor, who are now Swami Atmananda and Swami Lalitananda. Also, Ram Das became Swami Govindananda.
He also gave ‘Lineage Initation’ to Kumari who is now Yogini Rabia; Saraswati who is now Yogini Saraswati and Oya (from Byron Bay) who is now Oya Chaitanya. And also, Jimmy Nataraj from Chicago USA, who is now Nataraj Chaitanya.
‘The initiation is about moving from consumer to custodian,’ said Guruji. He meant that when we take this initiation into the lineage, our attention moves from self-concern to serving others. It means that we are always available to do the Guru’s work of sharing the teaching and serving others.
We had many first timers on this trip and watching them embrace the Shakti and feel Bhagavan’s grace was exhilarating. At the end of the trip we had a sharing session:
Oya Chaitanya: had many profound experiences, but emphasised that ‘he did not have to try to meditate, meditation was effortless.’
Ben (Bholenath): I never ever thought that inner peace was possible for me.
Karuna: It’s close to midnight in Maharashtra. I’m sitting on the floor in our little shared room, wrapped in my new Kashmiri blanket, with Guru Turtle sitting in my lap and Bhagawan Nityananda watching over me from the photo.. What a magical, magical night. I feel so alive and full of love, my heart simply cannot contain it. Krishna Das is singing Hara Mahadev, my hands are covered in intricate mehndi designs, and Oh my dear God, I really am in India.
Tonight is the last night, and it seems simply impossible to spend it sleeping, but abishek starts at 4:30 in the morning, so it’s time to curl up in bed. I will be dreaming about India, her magic, her Gurus, her Great Beings who, out of infinite compassion, created paths for us to reach our true inner Self, the radiant, boundless core of our being that is pure Love, pure light, and nothing but God.
It is there, I have seen it. I am taking away in my heart the beautiful people who have shared these two weeks with me, laughed with me, cried with me, inspired me, and reminded me what it means – and how it feels – to be truly and completely alive. I will be coming back to Mother India, because how could I not come back? This moment always existed, I was always coming to this place to find my path again and to remember who I am.
Thank you Bhagawan, thank you Guruji, thank you Devi Ma. Thank you all. Thank you, Leo!
Our next trip to Ganeshpuri will be in 2021. Guruji and many of his guru brothers and sisters will be celebrating their Golden Jubilee: 50 years with Baba Muktananda. That will be one magnificent trip.
Master Charles Cannon March 14th 1945 – January 24th 2019
by MM Swami Shankarananda
I’m very saddened to hear of the passing of Master Charles (Swami Vivekananda). For more than 40 years we have had a close friendship and working relationship. We were fellow disciples of Baba Muktananda and took sannyas together in 1977. Soon we were running ashrams for Baba in the US and traveling widely giving Intensives. In more recent years, we both created independent ashrams and came together many times to do the “three gurus” programs with Swami Nityananda and Swami Chetanananda. On top of all that, the two of us shared the same birthday…
One story out of so many from those early years: It was 1974, at the beginning of Baba’s second world tour. We were in Piedmont, California. I was the tour drummer and nervous to be drumming in front of Baba. I handled most of the chants well but then Baba called for ‘Rama Raghava Krishna Keshava’. This was different. I couldn’t find the beat. MC, who was always psychically tuned in, saw my extreme discomfort. He was sitting directly behind me and whispered in my ear “it’s a waltz”. I improvised a simple beat: one two three, one two three. It worked! My relief and gratitude were immense. Of course, among many other personal attributes, MC was a talented musician.
MC was a great disciple of a great Guru. It was a pleasure to talk to him about his years of close service to Baba. So many juicy stories, so much love. MC was a great yogi. Through the path of devotion, he achieved Guru samavesha, he merged his identity into the beingness of his great Guru. He attained the state of Self-realisation and imparted it to countless people.
He created a westernised and scientific form of practice which appealed to many who might otherwise be closed to the experience of Grace. His innovations were unique and clever, but the real reason for their efficacy lay in MC’s total devotion to his Guru. It was this ingredient that separated him from his many imitators.
When the history of spirituality in the West is someday written, MC will hold a significant place as one of the first Western-born Gurus of his tradition.
I remember him as warm and loving and witty. Actually he was more than witty, he could be hilariously funny not to mention practical and marvelously insightful. He shared his love with all who met him.
There’s no doubt that he is now sporting with his beloved Baba. I can see it in my mind’s eye. Such love is not of this world but is, in the truest sense, eternal.