It’s winter. I look out my office window. The orange flag on top of the meditation hall is blowing forcefully. There is a lot of activity outside considering the weather is unappealing. Dark rainy and cold, it is the worst winter I have seen here. Of course, it seems mild compared to Canadian winters where I trod through the snow freezing and felt cold even in down jackets. My dad used to drag us to the mountains. I wished that I liked to ski but I could never get used to the cold.
If I didn’t know better I would think I was melancholy. Well, maybe I am a little. But that is fine. I would rather feel melancholy than angry, or scared. I am at home in this space. It is familiar. I know that melancholy arises when I am brooding about the past. I only indulge for a while and then move on.
I don’t struggle anymore to change my state unless it is unbearable. That has happened a few times this past year. I experienced states of unhappiness that I thought I would never feel again. Life is full of surprises. And these past four years are testimony to that.
I have watched material things being torn away from me. Truly, I felt little grief at their loss. More painful was the shock I felt from the anger and hatred directed at me, and the ashram by former friends and students. My love for them seems to have gone unnoticed.
As I look back at my life I find it interesting that I have been hurt more brutally by women than men. The men in my life have hurt me in the usual way, but the women tried to destroy my life. How to talk about that? I probably can’t. Suffice to say only that.
Self-inquiry connects the personal with the impersonal. It respects the person. It doesn’t try to kill the person, but it also acknowledges the transpersonal. It seeks connectedness so that the person flowers within the impersonal [the divine] and discovers the impersonal within. A life without the impersonal is dry and empty. You want the universe to flow towards your personal advantage, but alas, the universe is indifferent. What chance does this little person have? The whole universe is arranged to frustrate or be indifferent to your desires. There is no joy in simply being a person.
…Through the process of inquiry, we recognise the dynamism running through us. We become liberated from doubt and concern when we no longer try to hold the universe at bay, but surrender to it and welcome it. Our actions become effective and powerful, because they are aligned with this great impersonal process.
Swamiji, Self-inquiry (pages. 42-43)
One of my favourite teachings of Swamiji’s is ‘you are your awareness‘. He says that everything we know, we know through our own awareness. And, we cannot know anything outside of our awareness.
Swamiji also says that awareness is the most powerful healing technique we have at our disposal. Our awareness is a divine gift. It is the light of the Self. It illumines the inner world and can heal the pain of separation. It transforms darkness to light. It connects us to the state of oneness. By focusing awareness inwardly on inner discomfort, we can change our state from painful to peaceful, in a split second.
The Shaivite text, Spanda Karika, says that staying connected with the Shakti is the key to maintaining a rich and satisfying life. Happiness and misery all arise from Consciousness and subside in Consciousness. And so, when we attend to our Consciousness magical things happen.
To maintain equanimity in the face of difficulty is no easy task. But, to have faith that whatever arises in Consciousness is temporary and that the Self underlies all thought and feeling means that we always have an inner refuge. As the text says, when the mind, after dwelling in mental agitation calms down then the Self shines through.
I am happy, I am miserable, I am attached–these and other thoughts have their being evidently in another in which the states of happiness, misery, etc., are strung together.
Spanda Karika I.4
We can investigate the inner world any time, in any place, in every moment. We just have to remember that we can. Swamiji encourages us to ask, ‘what’s going on here?’
Perhaps, rather than look for a permanent state where the mind never wavers, it may be more realistic to learn to recognise when we lose touch with the Self and how to reconnect. To be conscious of what Swamiji calls, the ‘upward’ or ‘downward’ shift in energy is crucial to maintaining a positive mind. In this way we can tell immediately when we have lost touch with the Self. The upward shift is not different from what the Spanda Karika calls spanda.
Again in sutras 1.23-1.25 it states:
Taking firm hold of that (spanda) the awakened yogi remains firm with the resolution, ‘I will surely carry out whatever it will tell me’. Resting on the experience of that spanda, both prana and apana get merged in the sushumna and by the upward path of sushumna they rise up to the great ether of universal Consciousness by abandoning the sphere of the body together with the brahmarandhra and are completely dissolved in it. There the unenlightened yogi by considering that state a kind of deep sleep remains stupefied, while the one who is not covered with the darkness of infatuation is established in that ether of universal Consciousness and abides as fully enlightened.
People often ask, ‘how can I tell the difference between delusion, or a desire that arises from ego and an upward shift?’
It is true that some infatuations feel really good and that only after we have satisfied that desire, do we realise that we paid a high price emotionally or energetically, for the indulgence.
These sutras say that the difference between an ego desire and the upward shift is that the latter is free from indulgence. Also, to follow the upward shift is good for everyone around us, not just for an individual. Spiritual desires are transparent, those around us will feel the Shakti that comes from a divine movement.
We think, act, speak and feel from the contents of our own awareness. And, we can see by looking within, how thoughts contaminate or uplift our inner world. This toxicity can cause hysteria, despair, insomnia, and mental agitation. It creates an inner vibration that we transmit to the outer world. We send those vibrations out to our nearest and dearest, disempowering and worrying all who are close to us. We talk to everyone hoping that someone will hold the key to solving our painful dilemma. However, the one who will solve them is concealed in our own awareness.
So, what are the ways in which we can follow the upward shift in daily life?
To check in, during the day, on the content in awareness is a simple way to clear away impressions that bring agitation, turmoil, and negative emotion in our psychic system. To simply make contact with your inner world often for a few minutes.
The methods for dealing with persistent negative thoughts and feelings can be different for different temperaments. But all types of people can use their power of language to shift their chemistry from contracted to expanded.
Experiment with different statements, and watch the effect each statement has on your inner world. When you can do this you soon learn to renounce thoughts that bring agitated mind states.
Oh Shiva, give me your grace.
If you are vulnerable to getting caught in grief and disappointment and taking to bed in disappointment, then rediscovering love and connection with the shakti is imperative. When a feeling of separation or isolation plagues the mind, it is within your power to keep the feeling of devotion alive. You can stay connected to the shakti, by remembering love for God, for the path, for the teachings, or for the Guru. You can turn your mind away from grief or sadness and call on God’s grace to shift your state of mind. You can make statements like:
Love is within me.
I give my love.
I am one with everything.
No outer event can harm my true Self.
The Self is always present.
There is no obstruction to Shiva anywhere.
When the mind becomes confused or agitated and decision making is impossible, you can change the way you think; you can substitute lower thoughts for higher. Move the mind away from doubt or fear, toward a higher understanding. Look for an understanding that suits the circumstance. Swamiji recommends contemplating what he calls G-Statements, statements that Shiva would say:
Everything is Consciousness.
There is absolutely no problem.
The whole world is inside my awareness.
Everything that arises in Consciousness is me.
My mind is illumined.
No outer event can harm my true nature.
When the world seems to be going against everything we want to accomplish and we are thwarted by circumstances beyond our control then we must stop and look within. When frustrated, disempowered or caught in self-concern we need to act selflessly. We take our attention off what we want and think of others. By serving the Guru, shakti, God, family, friends or spiritual community the mind will return to peace and contentment. Making statements like:
I relax and let go
My actions reflect the Self.
Shakti is always arising within me.
I accept myself and I accept others.
I surrender to the Guru.
Lately, Swamiji has been saying that everyone should represent the Guru in every situation. In other words we can all find a way to bring shakti into our home, our work, and our relationships. This means that we can look ways to give our highest value moment to moment, whether that is compassion, wisdom, love, patience, or service. We then maintain the shakti, the upward shift and positive energy is transmitted to others.
I am the Lord of Matrika [language].
By doing inquiry we can discover the narrative that connects us to shakti in each moment.This engages us with the Guru’s state of Consciousness, and we can reflect his or her state wherever we are. When we do the Guru’s work of remembering the Self, we make authentic contact with people and the Shakti we carry uplifts our environment. When our inner world is full of Shakti, all is well in the outer world.
Some questions to ask:
How can I stay connected to the shakti and the Guru?
What is in the way of that connection?
Could it be anger, fear or sorrow?
What can I do to reconnect?
How can I make contact with the Self?
How can I make contact with others?
It is enough to know when we are not as in touch with Shakti as we would like. If we are blaming someone, we can forgive. If we are clinging to something, we can let go. If we are holding enmity, we can return to love.
In this way we put love, wisdom, and compassion ahead of anger, fear and sorrow. We value the highest, not the negative stories the mind creates. Not the negative song of our life that us to a hell world of suffering. A simple inner world action will return us to the Self. The great beings teach that we can always:
I give them what they want, until they come to want what I have to give.
Sai Baba of Shirdi
Sai Baba of Shirdi Sai Baba, is an Indian religious figure who lived from the mid-19th Century to October 15, 1918. He was considered a Guru and holy man to both Hindus and Muslims.
Sai taught that all religions lead to the same goal, knowledge of the Self and Guru. He worked hard to show the underlying unity between the Muslim and Hindu faiths. One of his most famous sayings was “God is the Owner of us All.”
Like Bhagavan Nityananda Sai’s childhood is obscure. Some believe that he was raised in the village of Pathri, by a fakir and his wife. When he was around sixteen years old he arrived in the village of Shirdi, in Maharashtra.
He lived a very ascetic life, spending many hours in prayer and meditation. Some called him a saint; others were less impressed by this ascetic. He settled in a run down temple, and later a dilapidated mosque. Without any attempt to attract followers, both Muslim and Hindus were drawn to his presence.
As well as teaching spirituality and tolerance of religions, he was also known for his ability to create miracles, such as materialising objects out of thin air. As his life progressed, increasingly big crowds were attracted to wherever he went. Sai lived in Shirdi all his life and was buried in the Buty Wada, also known as Samadhi Mandir.
Some months ago, Swamiji found out that his friend Premakantha Kurukal, a Brahmin priest, was tending a Sai Baba temple in Mordialloc, a small town a half hour drive from the ashram. One evening Swamiji decided to surprise him with a visit.
Tricky to find, hidden by the side of the railway line we wandered through a small lane, much like the paths in Varanasi. At the end, a row of shoes led us to the door of the temple.
I gasped in wonder as we walked in. There was Sai Baba resplendent in Shakti and love. I was in awe as to how beautiful and alive he is. He is just as beautiful as the murti in Shirdi. His radiance is startling. Premakantha was travelling, but a young man gave us fruit and flowers to offer Sai and we sat to meditate.
On either side of him are two words: the one on the left as you face him, is shraddha, meaning have faith and believe in him. The other on the right is saburi, meaning have patience. Two great statements for all those who are praying to him for blessings and boons.
A rarity in a temple, everyone participates in the Arati–you can wave the light and fan him in the traditional way. It is delightful to participate in the Arati, chant and soak up the blissful energy. It is a beautiful ceremony and love flows from Sai and the devotees as chanting fills the space. It is intimate, powerful and full of love.
A few weeks later Swamiji took a group of us to the temple again. Premakantha was ecstatic to see him and us. He greeted us all with love and joy and immediately had Swamiji waving the lights during Arati.
Sai Baba seems to be everywhere these days. In India his photograph and temples are all over the country and now he is very present in the West. There are at least three temples that I know of in Melbourne. He is renowned for granting the wishes of his devotees, whether it is for a marriage, a job, health issues, relationship, a child, and whatever the heart desires.
On my most recent visit to the Mordialloc temple, I was astonished at the amount of shakti and love permeating from him. As I walked toward him, I felt a familiar welcome that I have always attributed to Baba Muktananda. But there now Sai was smiling and twinkling. I felt a deep acceptance; Sai’s blessings surrounded me and I was infused with his grace.
Like Bhagavan Nityananda his Consciousness lives wherever he is praised and worshipped. His devotees say that he himself said that after his samadhi, he would bless and protect everyone who takes refuge in him.
Truly speaking he is one of the greatest siddhas that ever lived. The hundredth anniversary of his samadhi is this year and it is likely there will be pujas, aratis and chanting programs in all of his temples.
Quotes attributed to Sai Baba:
Whoever puts his feet on Shirdi soil, his sufferings would come to an end.
The wretched and miserable will rise to joy and happiness as soon as they climb the steps of the mosque.
I shall be ever active and vigorous even after leaving this earthly body.
My tomb shall bless and speak to the needs of my devotees.
I shall be active and vigorous even from my tomb.
My mortal remains will speak from my tomb.
I am ever living to help and guide all who come to me, who surrender to me and who seek refuge in me.
If you look to me, I look to you.
If you cast your burden on me, I shall surely bear it.
If you seek my advice and help, it shall be given to you at once.
There shall be no want in the house of my devotee.
One who loves his own Self loves the whole world.
At this time of year my thoughts turn toward Baba Muktananda as his solar and lunar birthday come around. Born May 16, 1908, he lived a yogi’s life; it was was full, rich, filled with Shakti and mystical. He served humanity until his last breath. I cherish my time with him and every encounter I had. Below is one of them.
In July or August of 1979 Baba sent Swamiji to Los Angeles, California to run the ashram there in preparation for his visit in 1981. Until then he had been head of the Ann Arbor ashram with Girija, his wife. It was a thriving spiritual community. Swamiji was a guru to many devotees and the ashram reflected their devotion.
This was a sudden and unexpected decision by Baba. I was devastated, as were many others. It was unfathomable that Swamiji would not return to Ann Arbor.
After a few weeks and much thinking, I got up the courage to write Baba a letter in the hope that he would give me permission to join him. I told him that I loved Swamiji, that he was my guru, and that I missed him.
Baba’s response was a short and decisive teaching, ‘you should learn to love everyone; love universally, not specifically.’
Unfortunately, I knew Baba was right and that I was too attached to Swamiji. But, the pain of separation was an agony that I did not want to live with. I accepted Baba’s directive but there was an uncomfortable angst in my heart.
My seva at the time was coordinating the Siddha Path magazine with Swamiji. It chronicled Baba’s travels around the world and helped devotees at home keep in touch with Baba. I supervised the production and made sure it met deadlines. It was a big seva and becoming bigger, as every day we had more and more subscribers. One morning in meditation I realized that it was impossible to run the magazine with Swamij, if he was in LA and I was in Ann Arbor.
I again wrote Baba and asked, ‘Baba how can I do my seva on the magazine while Swamiji is in LA?’
One day, about a week later, the ashram receptionist ran up to me, ‘Baba’s on the phone, he wants to speak to you!’
I was so excited. His attendant Noni was on the other end of the line, but I could hear Baba shouting in the background, ‘Baba says you should go immediately to Los Angeles.’ Within two days Das, my husband at the time, who also helped with the magazine, and I were on our way. We arrived before Baba had a chance to inform the devotees in LA and he was surprised when he found out we were there.
We had been in LA for some months when Baba’s tour arrived in Oakland, Northern California. The hard-working ashramites had transformed an old brothel into a beautiful urban refuge. Back then Oakland was a poor, mainly black suburb. There were homeless people, addicts and alcoholics wandering the streets. Cars were burgled regularly. This did not stop devotees from buying the neighbouring dilapidated houses. The community was buzzing with renovations.
One afternoon I was walking away from lunch when Swami Samatananda approached me. He told me Baba wanted to see me. I was excited and scared. At that moment Das appeared.
He took us to a darshan room where Baba conducted business across a small courtyard at the back of the ashram.
When we walked into the room I noticed Amma, Baba’s secretary, and some other staff who worked on ashram publications were there. We pranamed, (bowed) to Baba and when I looked up at him I went into ecstasy.
Bowing was a custom I had become used to during my time in India. While there, I had noticed that not only did the Indian devotees throw themselves at Baba’s feet with great ardour, often almost tripping him as he walked by, but also young adults bowed to their parents and grandparents as a sign of respect. There is a mysterious bliss in showing devotion by bowing.
Baba picked up a copy of the Siddha Path, which was sitting next to him and said, ‘Don’t put my picture on the cover anymore. People think we are a cult.’
We always put a picture of Baba on the cover of the magazine. Then he held up a copy of an Indian publication that Amma produced. It had a picture of the Ganeshpuri Ashram on the cover. ‘You can put a picture like this on it. No more of me’, he commanded.
‘Okay Baba’, I said. Amma giggled.
The Jim Jones murder-suicide in Guyana had just been reported. I thought that maybe he had been plagued by questions about this tragedy. He was often asked about cults, but in this climate no answer would satisfy a fearful parent. His reply to questions on cults was usually something like, ‘This is the religion of man. We worship the Self. I want you to learn to love and honour your own Self, not another person.’
‘Did you get a job? ’ Baba asked me.
‘No Baba’, I said. I was proud of my new suit that I thought seemed more ‘professional.’ I often met with people who worked on the magazine and thought my way of dressing was appropriate.
I sensed Baba’s disapproval but it wasn’t enough for him to bust me. My bliss increased.
‘I have had a lot of complaints about you’, said Baba. ‘People are writing me about you’, he added, holding up a sheaf of letters. Swamiji had told me that Baba hated hearing complaints about others, unless he wanted to know something. I was reassured by that thought.
‘You should welcome others with love’, said Baba.
I was uncertain how to reply. I understood that Baba was trying to teach me something. Even though his manner was gruff, I did not feel anger, only love. Baba was speaking directly to a chronic fear of strangers, my shyness, my inability to talk to people I did not know, and what I thought was a social ineptness.
‘Baba’, I said, ‘I don’t know how.’
He thought for a moment. And then he gave me a profound teaching.
‘You should be like me. Do what I do. Every night I greet people. I ask, “What is your name? Where do you come from? What do you do?” You should be just like me and do just what I do.’
I was overjoyed. ‘Okay Baba’, I said as I basked in his love and attention.
‘Here,’ he said, ‘they are just jealous, but you should welcome everyone’ and he threw the letters at me.
Ever since that moment I have used Baba’s welcome formula. Now I am comfortable in social situations when I meet new people. And, when we returned to LA I made an effort to welcome others, including the women who wrote the letters to Baba.
At the ashram I was a ‘busy ashramite’, and did not think of myself as part of the ‘welcome committee.’ It did not occur to me that others needed to be put at ease in Baba’s ashram. I always felt so comfortable, so natural in Baba’s ashrams, even though I shied away from people. His welcome formula was a spiritual and personal breakthrough. And, I also learned that a smile is the most welcoming greeting.
For the second time Baba encouraged me to ‘love everyone.’ This was becoming a theme in my spiritual growth. Baba’s adage, ‘See God in everyone’ epitomised the way he was. His gift of welcome was the capacity to greet each person he met as if they were the only one in a crowded hall of thousands.
After much wandering I have come back home
Where the wheel of time and change turns not
Where the natives are rich in the wealth of the heart
Where all live ever free in the City of God. Ravi Das
Leaving Ganeshpuri is always hard. Where can you go when you have been to the heart of God? But I had a desire to visit Varanasi, the city of Liberation and so Anjali and I headed off, which was a step into the unknown for me. Anjali, an intrepid trekker in her youth, had been there 35 years ago. Little did I know that step would take on unique meaning.
The city is known as Benares to the Muslims, Kashi to the Hindus and Varanasi to the British. It has many faces, many temples, many Samadhi shrines and many Gods and Goddesses. There is a Shiva lingam almost every step, and Hanuman, the monkey God, and servant of Lord Ram, is also present, as are families of monkeys who live on the rooftops. But, it is evident that the Goddess Ganga reigns supreme.
Hindu religious texts use many epithets to refer to Varanasi, such as Kashika, the shining one; Avimukta, never forsaken by Shiva; Anandavana, the forest of bliss; and Rudravasa, the place where Shiva resides. Kashi is mentioned in the Rig Veda that dates from 1700 to 1100 BCE. Hence archaeologists think it is the oldest city in the world.
According to one legend Kashi was established when there was a fight between Brahma and Shiva. It resulted in one of Brahma’s five heads being cut off by Shiva. It was customary that the victor held the slain adversary’s head in his hand and let it hang down as an act of disgrace and a sign of bravery. Folklore also says that Shiva settled here after his marriage to Parvati.
Varanasi’s history is fascinating. The Buddha gave his first teaching, ‘The setting in motion of the wheel of Dharma’ at nearby Sarnath. In the 8th century, the great Adi Shankara established Shiva as the official deity. Three poet saints that Baba used to talk about were also born there. Tulsidas, who wrote his epic poem the retelling of Lord Ram’s life, the Ramayana in the local vernacular. And, the poet saints Kabir and Ravidas were also born there.
Swami Nirmalananda of Svaroopa Yoga, to whom Guruji had given sannyas, had invited us to stay at her beautiful and modern Guest House which sits just back from the Ganges on the Narmada Ghat. Her home here is a brightly painted yellow building run by her adopted Indian son, Narayan, who was on duty for us 24 hours a day. He guided us, toured us, supplied us with food and generally watched out for us like a brother (see below).
Our guest house is the yellow building on back right.
Our first day on the Ganges
The river has nearly a hundred Ghats, steps leading to its bathing sites, washing sites, and praying sites. To walk along the river means to walk up and down what seemed like hundreds of steps. Anjali called it ‘the city of steps’.
Buddhists, Jains and Hindus regularly pray and bathe at the banks of the river. Mother Ganges is a sacred deity, from whom everything is granted. Devotees say that She blesses everyone who comes to her. No matter what we give her, She remains pure.
There are four different morning and evening Aratis at the river, which is best seen from one of the many boats anchored near the Ghats–Assim, Manikarnika, Maanmandir and Lalita, to name a few. They are mostly the same except for one, where the chanting is done by women. Brahmins face the Ganges waving lights, incense and other materials to the river. It is a kind nature worship. The Arati is reminiscent of a sacred dance done in perfect unison. It is utterly beautiful.
It is said that if you visit Varanasi in the right spirit, you are instantly free from rebirth. And so for Centuries thousands of Hindus have come here to die. All day long the cremation fires burn. The bodies are washed in the Ganges, mantras are chanted and the fires are lit. Even though electric crematoriums have been built nearby many families still prefer the old tradition. But next year families will no longer be able to cremate outdoors. Wood is a scarcity, and besides, the smoke is a pollutant that Varanasi can do without.
Many Hindu pilgrims are either ill, dying or dead. The energy seemed heavier than what I am used to. It is as though Varanasi is a battleground between spirit and matter. The soul departing the body leaves behind despair. Prayers are ongoing as seekers and mourners take consolation from Shiva and Mother Ganga. Candles on small leaf plates flow continually in the river as the feeling of loss is sacrificed into the river. It is impossible not to think of God.
There is so much that is difficult to see. Mangy dogs fight for survival and territory. There were human bones laying on the path where dogs have left them. Beggars and sadhus are so much alike it is hard to tell them apart, except for the worn orange cloth. In the middle of the grieving families vendors ply their wares.
Hundreds of Western sightseers soak up the atmosphere. I was surprised by the number of elderly fascinated by the mystery of death. Some seek spiritual nourishment but most are tourists. Hatha yoga, meditation, vendors, worship, death come together in the maelstrom of life.
This is the land where Shiva rules, and has for centuries. The power of change is apparent. The beauty of the Ganges is both awe-inspiring and horrific as effluence from the sewers meets the purifying moving water as devotees bathe. Their devotion is so one-pointed that no one seems to notice the dark matter floating close to them. They are intoxicated by the moment of union with Shiva and nothing distracts them from their prayers. Anjali and I, on the other hand, feel brave as we scarcely dip our toes.
We were invited to meet Uma’s friend, Gopal, who runs the Kedareshwar B & B right on the river. He is a generous and charming host and his place is beautiful. He also offers beautiful Western breakfasts. A devotee of the Guru he is adamant that he will build Guruji an ashram in a village across the river.
There are so many temples it would be impossible to see them all in the time we had. And also, as a disciple I am more interested in Samadhi shrines, and the sages and saints of India. I am always on the lookout for their teachings and any available books in English. I found out too late that there are many samadhi shrines in Varanasi. Guruji mentioned in a phone call that he knew there was a samadhi shrine of a great Siddha, an avadhut like Bhagavan Nityananda, close by. His name is Trailanga Swami and apparently he was over 300 years old when he died. We decided to go and I was looking forward to the peace that can be found with the Saints.
Sending our prayers down the river.
Narayan led us through the back narrow footpaths near the Manakarnika Ghat where a main Arati takes place. It was a relief to walk through the doors of the pristine atmosphere. A young priest was feeding Trailanga’s murti breakfast. I asked if I could photograph him and he said after breakfast. He gave Narayan a key to the underground cave where his body lay just behind a wall with his photograph on it. We meditated in the beautiful space of his Shakti.
Varanasi has a Shakti that I have not experienced before. Shiva seems more his destructive and transforming power. It is as though He is in concealment, hiding the light of Consciousness and only showing His moody painful side.
As I embraced this energy I understood that the light and the dark meet in a true joining of Shiva in His fullness. I kept thinking about the story of Arjuna and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Faced with the destruction of his family Arjuna pleads with Krishna to see His true form. Krishna opens his mouth and all of creation pours out. The power of Krishna’s love gushes forth but so does all of the inherent darkness of manifestation. Horrified Arjuna begs Krishna to return to his human form.
And so here in Varanasi the constant churning of destruction is ongoing and sometimes disturbing to observe. But God’s grace prevailed and I was left with a fuller knowing of Shiva’s true nature. Just as we must come to peace with the dark and light within us, it is impossible to truly know God if we cannot find acceptance and understanding of His dark side. And so, I will always remember Him as the power of both life, and death.
I began to think of Varanasi as, ‘the city of renunciation’. The stillness of the atmosphere leaves no room for desire. Worldly matters become insignificant in the face of death. An intangible burden left me and I am lighter of heart.
I think that everyone should visit Varanasi. It left a deep impression on my soul and I wish that it will do so for you also.
And, when you do decide to take a step into the heart of Shiva try these Guest Houses. It is imperative that you book in at both. Swami Nirmalananda’s booking can be found by clicking on her name, and Gopal’s Guest House Kedareshwar B&B is to be found by clicking on the link or on Trip Advisor.
May your journey be fruitful, uplifting and full of wonder.
Below is a video of my favorite temple, sadly it is falling into the river and a view of Varanasi as we motorboat north.
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.
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.
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.
An associate professor in Industrial and Systems engineering at Wayne State University in Michigan, Rajendra has also dedicated his life to yoga. However, recently he has come full circle as a yogi and disciple. He describes the deepening of his understanding of the path with intelligence and humor.
I first met Swamiji in the Spring of 1974 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was in my Senior year at the University of Michigan. I would walk across the “Diag” to get to my classes. One morning as I was approaching the Engineering “Arch” at the start of the Diag, I saw this skinny guy sitting by himself at a folding table. He was sitting there, quiet, smiling, alert, while the students walked passed him. I didn’t see anyone stop. When I got close, I saw he had some flyers about a Guru, Swami Muktananda, coming to town. So I stopped to chat for a bit. His eyes were dark, almost black and sparkled. I had heard through the grapevine that Swami Muktananda was coming, but I had not met any of his people.
But what really struck me was that he looked happy. Not just contented, but happy, just sitting there. I thought, “How can he be happy doing this? He must be bored out of his mind. What a thankless job!”
The next day I ran into him again, this time he was set up in front of the Bagel Factory a couple of blocks away. We talked some more. He said they were setting up an Ashram in Ann Arbor. He invited me to come by, help get the place ready, and maybe do some chanting. I said maybe I would, and I did.
But that is not the story I want to tell. The story I want to tell is about how 45 years later I came to understand why he was happy, its place in my Yoga journey, and what it means to me now.
Back to the beginning. I had practiced Hatha yoga for a few years. I had a sense that there was something more, having read accounts of odd adventures with yogis in India, but didn’t know how to touch it. Then I had the great good fortune to meet a true Satguru.
I experienced grace, touched through the eyes in sustained Darshan. I took Yoga initiation. I thought “I am only 18. If it starts out like this, what is the rest of my life going to be like?” The thought came to me that I would have sadhana for some years, then live an ordinary life, then in a later stage of life, would have the opportunity for sadhana again.
I was with him for two days. Then I did something that made me angry and ashamed. The next time we met, he looked at me, and I turned my head away. Like that, snap, the feeling of connection was gone, and I did not have his darshan again. A year or so later, he took Mahasamadhi (passed away). That was over 45 years ago.
Meeting Kirpal Singh Maharaj is one of the great memories of my life. Turning my head away is the most painful. I refused to accept that the connection was lost. I did ferocious meditation practice, but the sense of intimate connection was gone.
The Ann Arbor Ashram
A year or two after that, I heard that Swami Muktananda was going to come to Ann Arbor as part of his world tour. I had heard crazy stories about him from other yogi-wanna-bees. Some of them had been with Rudi (Swami Rudrananda, a disciple of Baba’s) in New York. I had no doubt that this might be another Great Being.
A few weeks later, I met Swamiji, on the Diag. And met him again the next day in front of the Bagel Factory. It turned out Baba had told him to start an ashram in Ann Arbor, and have it ready for his visit in September. This was to be Baba’s first ashram in America. And, lo and behold, the ashram was going to be just a couple of blocks from the place I was renting.
I started going over to help get the place ready, along with a bunch of other people. We chanted in the evenings. We all felt a bow-wave of something coming.
Finally the big day came. Baba was going to arrive. The meditation hall was packed. Swamiji was drumming and we were chanting with great enthusiasm. Hours went by (apparently the plane was delayed – what a grace). Swamiji kept picking up the energy. Everyone found their deepest reserves of joy, and then found more. I don’t have the words to describe it.
Finally Baba arrived. He stayed at the Ann Arbor ashram for about two weeks, then left for New York. To say that people were having supreme meditation experiences would be an understatement. I certainly was.
But I was very conflicted. How could I have had the connection I had with Kirpal Singh Maharaj, and dedicated myself to his practice, but also experience such consistent and intense Shakti with Baba? Kirpal Singh was gone and my feeling of connection was gone. Baba was here. And Baba was Baba. Who was my Guru? How could I accept one without denying the other? I had rejected Kirpal Singh once, and wasn’t going to do it again. But how could anyone deny Baba?
In the Fall after the Arcadia month-long retreat, I moved to Minnesota and began graduate school. One day in meditation, I saw Baba in front of me. I blurted out, “Babaji, let me live in your ashram!” – meaning the Ann Arbor ashram. When I realized what I had done, I thought, “Oh no! I better do this before it gets done to me.”
At the end of the semester, I came back to Ann Arbor to the ashram. Swamiji asked, “How long will you be staying?” I said, “As long as I am welcome.” And that was that – ashram life punctuated by running across the country and across the ocean to be with Baba.
Life as a Householder
If this were an old-fashioned movie, the hands on the clock would start spinning really fast, and the pages would blow off the calendar right about now.
I finished graduate school in 1978, moved out of the ashram, got a job, got divorced, had a career, got married again, changed jobs, had two kids, founded and ran a company, raised kids, retired, became a university professor, finished raising kids. I stayed in touch with Swamiji. My enthusiasm for Yoga was like the moon: sometimes here, sometimes not.
It has been almost 40 years since I moved out of the Ann Arbor ashram. After forty years in the desert, I’m still welcome. How about that?
Return To Yoga
When I turned 60 – that was four years ago – a great renewed interest in Yoga woke up in me. I practiced techniques to become sensitive to the movements of Kundalini. I bent my mind to subtleties of Jnana Yoga. I brought my background in neuropsychology and evolutionary biology bear on Self-Inquiry. It all worked, just like the instruction manual said it would.
But it was as dry as dust. It was ashes in my mouth. I thought, “ever since I was a child, I have held the vision of Yoga as the crown of life, and is this all there is?”
I had been emailing Swamiji as this sadhana unfolded. I asked, “where is the joy? Where is the heartbeat of Ananda (bliss)? Why were you so damn happy on that corner of the Diag doing that shitty boring job?”
He wrote me back saying simply, “For me, I found bliss in devotion to Baba.”
I had to wrestle with this. It was a very difficult meditation.
I realized I had no joy because I had no devotion. Because I had no devotion, I had no Guru, and because I had no Guru, I had no devotion. I had been rejecting the Guru. I had turned away from Kirpal Singh, much as I wanted to embrace him. I was unable to embrace Baba because I was conflicted around Kirpal Singh. I did not accept Shankarananda because he was a friend. I thought I was a pretty damn good yogi even before I met him. And, how could anyone other than Baba be a Guru in his presence?
I came back to the old questions, “how do you recognize your Guru?” and “what is the Guru, anyway?” I applied myself to these questions. I immersed myself in this meditation. And I emerged with, for me, an answer.
For me, the Guru is the connection to Baba and the Siddha Lineage, a personal connection to the living Guru Lineage. I saw that Swami Shankarananda was, has been, and is, my connection to Baba and the Siddha Lineage. I saw that even when Baba was alive, Shankarananda was my connection to Baba. Swamiji remains my connection to Baba and the Siddha Lineage.
This was not an easy meditation. It took a lot more than intellectual consideration. I had to embrace it all the way, or else be back to rejecting. No other choices. No halfway measures. At length, I dove in. I embraced it. I asked Swamiji to let me put his feet on my head. This took a lot of surrender. It was not easy for me.
I felt I needed to follow through in person, not just in mind. The ‘ask’ was not about grace. That had already been freely given. The ‘ask’ was something I had to do to ‘seal the deal’ within myself.
When I opened to the Guru realization, my heart opened. Not just a crack. It opened a whole lot. Baba spoke to me. He said “What you get from Shankarananda, you get from me. What you give to Shankarananda, you give to me.”
Baba said, “This is ‘right understanding’. Practice this Yoga.”
This is why I came to the opposite side of the earth, to a land down under.