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.
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.
In late 1981 I traveled with Baba Muktananda back to Ganeshpuri, at the end of his last American tour. My ex-husband had taken sannyas in Los Angeles, and stayed back in South Fallsburg to manage the ashram. Baba had suggested that I stay in Fallsburg also but I could not edit the Siddha Path magazine from there and so opted for Ganeshpuri.
Gurudev Siddha Peeth was where I felt most at home, most at peace, and most blissful. But in those months before Baba’s death, in October of 1982, I became restless and dissatisfied with my life.
Swamiji had been running the Fitzroy ashram in Australia and I was no longer working with him on the magazine. There was no foreseeable sign of us working together ever again. Australia seemed like a powerful spiritual match for him. Baba told him, ‘you go well in Australia.’ Even though Swamiji happened to be in Ganeshpuri at this time, he was tending to the Australians.
During the months prior to Baba’s death many long time ashramites were considering returning to the world. After seven years of disciplined ashram life, I too began to crave a different experience. I questioned whether I needed a change and that maybe it was time for me to leave also.
Baba had offered to give me sannyas on his birthday in May, however, I was reluctant to accept. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be part of a massive impersonal foundation. Instead, thoughts of leaving the ashram began to rattle my brain. As these thoughts took over my mind I became more restless and frustrated with my situation.
Swamiji had developed close relationships with the Australians and there was no place or Seva for me in his current life. I had imagined that we would run an ashram together in the future, but now it seemed that would not manifest any time soon, or at all. I got mad at myself for my attachment to him. However, instead of examining what was happening within me, I began to look for a way out.
My thoughts became more and more separative, as the Maya of wanting a change overtook me. I want to see if I can hold the Shakti in the world. I want to know if I have attained anything. Can I be happy in the world? Maybe if I am away from Swamiji I will discover a different happiness? These questions plagued me and I found a laundry list of reasons to support my growing cause.
A man who worked in the gardens started pursuing me and eventually I turned to him for company. A relationship grew. He had plans to leave for the USA in May, just before Baba’s birthday and after getting to know him for a few months, I made the decision to join him.
As my friends and mentors heard that I was about to leave they tried to encourage me to stay. They told me I was making a mistake. They said that I belonged in the ashram and that what I was doing went against what was best for me. I refused to listen. In fact, their words had the opposite effect, and I became more and more determined to leave.
Shortly before we were to leave we went up to Baba to say goodbye. He spoke to me lovingly but firmly saying, ‘I thought you wanted to be a swami.’
‘I changed my mind Baba’, I said.
‘Your mind is weak’, he replied.
I laughed uncomfortably but refused to consider his words.
‘He is so ugly’, Baba said. I was astounded that Baba spoke so cruelly in front of my new partner. I knew that he was trying to get my attention by showing his displeasure. But I was adamant in my decision and would not listen to the secret message in his words. It was obvious that I did not have his blessing to do what I was doing. My belligerence overwhelmed my surrender. Still, I refused to listen to Baba.
‘You have one of my best sadhus,’ he said. ‘But, he is a thorn to remove a thorn’. said Baba.
That stopped my mind. I knew he was referring to my relationship with Swamiji. A seed of doubt was planted.
‘You won’t be happy. Now go’, Baba said.
Those were the last words he spoke to me.
I am pretty sure that is me in the foreground.
And, of course, Baba was right. The minute I stepped outside the gates of the ashram I knew I had made a mistake. As I climbed into the taxi to Bombay I felt the full impact of my wilful desire. I woke up from the dream of my fantasy and to the truth that my decision to leave was motived by anger and resentment. I had refused to listen to Baba or to the wise counsel of those I cared about. I hurt myself, I hurt them and I was about to hurt my new partner. I wanted to run back to the ashram but I could not take back what I had set in motion; certain karmas had to be played out.
Such is the power of will gone wrong. Eventually, I would learn to recognise the inner signs when my will went wrong, and be suspicious of that movement. But, I had much more sadhana to do before I could calm it when it raised its impulsive head.
We arrived in Vancouver to visit my family and after a few days I told my partner that I did not want to continue our relationship. He left for America without me.
Alone suddenly, I went into shock. Baba was right of course. I had left everything I loved and cared about. I had left my spiritual family, my work and the Guru. I was bereft. And then, Baba took samadhi.
My mind went berserk. I was overwhelmed in sadness and grief at Baba’s death. I never told him how much I loved him. I never thanked him for giving me an amazing life. How could I have done what I did? My heart became dry. I plummeted into a spiritual weakness–self-doubt and fear.
I questioned everything about my decisions and tore into myself. I was an idiot. I was stupid. I was angry and wilful. I was a fool. Why did I not feel Shakti? Was it because I left India without the blessings of the Guru, my friends and the spiritual community that had supported and loved me? Was I was just ineffectual? Had I made all the wrong decisions? I had left a Shakti-filled life for what?
I grappled for my place in life. I did not know whether I was a wife who had not met the right man, a career person who had not found the right career, a servant of Baba’s successors, Swamiji’s disciple, or a seeker who would find another teacher.
Baba’s words, ‘You won’t be happy reverberated in my head.’ In later years those words became a warning that arose in my mind every time I wanted to do something wilful.
Finally, I understood that I had to return to the Shakti. There was no peace or Shakti in Vancouver for me. The only thing that gave me some comfort, was the idea that I should go to Santa Monica where there was an ashram, look for a job and try to put my life back together. Maybe I could reconnect with the Shakti by doing this.
I got a job on a magazine and an apartment in Santa Monica close to the Broadway ashram. I was living but did not feel alive or in touch Guru’s grace. I felt mechanical and my heart was not connected to God.
I began to realise that it was spiritual suicide to reject what had been given to me by the Shakti and the Guru. No matter what I thought I wanted personally, no matter what I thought about Swamiji, the higher dharma was to follow my connection to the Shakti, to God, to the Guru and to the Self. My dharma was to accept my devotion, wherever that led me.
Gurumayi and Swami Nityananda were now sitting as the Gurus and in charge of all ashram and foundation matters. Gurumayi was touring America in early ’84 and due to visit Santa Monica. She was holding programs at the old Broadway theatre in the mall by the ashram. Swamiji was with her as her MC. I knew that I should reach out but I was scared. I got up the courage to telephone him and asked if I could visit him.
When I told Swamiji that I was having a rough time he said, ‘Why don’t you come back on tour? Talk to Gurumayi.’
Even though I wanted to accept Swamiji’s guidance, I was doubtful. I would have to swallow my pride and admit that I made a mistake. I knew that it might be hard to be on tour. Previously, I had a lot of independence and freedom to create. Under these new conditions I fearfully imagined what seva I might have to do.
I wanted confirmation from the Shakti that returning to the ashram was right. That night after seeing Swamiji, I went to the evening program with Gurumayi. The old theatre was packed and so I sat down on the floor in the last row in the back.
‘Baba,’ I prayed, ‘I need a sign. If you want me to return to the tour, please give me one.’
A few seconds later I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up at a hall monitor. ‘Come with me,’ she said. I got up and we walked down to the front two rows from Gurumayi.
‘Sit here,’ she said and smiled. Gurumayi looked over and smiled at me.
I was laughing inside myself. ‘Okay Baba, I will talk to her.’
I went up in the darshan line to greet her, and she seemed full of light. She greeted me warmly. We joked and I asked to see her. She told me to come the next day. Immediately, I was aware that I had aligned with the Shakti. My inner being was illumined by Guru’s grace. The next day I went to see her. She was sitting in a small room in the ashram. ‘I want to come back Gurumayi. I miss Baba,’ I said.
She looked at me and considered what I had said. For a moment I thought I had said something wrong. I was a little apprehensive for she had adopted some of Baba’s manners and gestures. I imagined that she was in a difficult situation with the old-timers. It could not have been easy to fill Baba’s shoes. Her power and charisma however, were undeniable. I had always felt a connection with Gurumayi and she had always been very good to me. I also deeply admired her devotion to Baba.
Once in Miami when I visited Baba she called me into her room to chat. When I walked in she was sitting on her bed. There was only the floor for me and so I sat down in front of her a few inches away. I looked up at her big gorgeous face; she is unbelievably beautiful. Suddenly, the room exploded in Shakti and I was filled with ecstasy. The room seemed to vibrate with the chemistry of a strange mystery between us. I was astounded at this immense power. We laughed and chatted about nothing. We didn’t speak about what happened, but I thought that there was no way that she could not have felt it.
But back in Santa Monica I was on shaky ground. My confidence was low. ‘Baba is still alive; he is everywhere,’ she said.
‘I know’, I replied, but I am having trouble feeling him.’
Gurumayi paused and said, ‘Okay, but you need $2,000.’
I only had $500 in the bank. I knew that it would take me a year to save that much money and I did not want to wait a year. Where was I going to get the rest? I prayed that the money would somehow come.
A few days later I was in the parking lot across from the ashram looking for a space to park. I stopped and waited for a car to pull out. A large utility van about a hundred feet ahead of me was also waiting to park. I looked to my left as the car pulled out from the space I wanted. I looked up and the van was reversing toward me at about 25 mph. ‘He can’t possibly be going to run into me,’ I thought. ‘Can he?’
Sure enough he backed right into my car. The front end was so damaged I could not drive. I was unhurt but in a state of shock. I got out of my car and a young man of about twenty jumped out of the truck crying, ‘I am so sorry. Are you all right?’ He was grateful I was not hurt.
We exchanged information and he told me that he would contact his insurance company so my car could be fixed. The next day I received a phone call from his mother who asked if I would accept a cheque for $2,000! I could not believe my good fortune.
This is a talk I gave at an Intensive about the value of Shaktipat. I remember my Shaktipat as the greatest gift I could ever receive.
Of all the buddhas who have ever attained enlightenment, not a single one accomplished this without relying upon a master. And, of all the thousand buddhas who will appear in this eon, none of them will attain enlightenment without relying on a master.
One of my greatest joys in life is to watch people awaken to the Shakti and then watch their lives transform. Over the years thousands of people have walked through the doors of the Ashram and awakened to Guru’s grace. I have watched sadness become love, I have seen anger dissolve into forgiveness and fear become faith.
And so I always look forward to Intensives because at its heart is shaktipat, the kundalini awakening. If we want to make lasting progress on the path, then we need to awaken the inner energy. Awakening connects us to both the inner and outer guru. Spiritually, this is the most important relationship we can cultivate. The Guru understands how to navigate the complex mystery of the mind and the emotions–the tendency to create rhythms that lead us astray. If we can make the relationship with the Self and the Guru work, then we can make all of our relationships work.
In the early 70s when Guruji first published the Siddha Path magazine, Baba Muktananda said of him, “he has the power to make people experience the divine presence.” When I first met him in the 70s, before he was a guru or a swami, he had a beautiful light around him. I didn’t know what it was that shone so brightly in him until later, when I learned that it was the Shakti, the divine energy from his devotion to his Guru, Baba Muktananda.
Where does this ability come from in him and other great gurus? The great beings say that whatever they have attained, it is due to their Guru’s grace. Devotion to the Guru bears worldly and spiritual blessings. And, it is a disciple’s love and faith in the Guru that sustains the Shakti.
Guruji’s discipleship to Baba, was the burning ground of his spiritual development. He faced his anger, his fear, his despair, his restlessness, his jealousy, and his self-doubt, everything that was in the way of making a permanent connection to the Self. At the end of his journey he felt at one with Baba.
When Baba sent him away to run the first American ashram in ’74, Baba continually told him, “run Intensives.” and every time he saw Guruji, Baba asked him, “are you holding Intensives?” This work helped him realise what and who he was in the deepest sense, and who he wanted to become. Baba, was always there, sometimes lovingly, sometimes ferociously preparing him for the service of awakening and guiding others to their own Self.
Many yogis do not have the great good fortune to meet a Guru who can easily awaken the inner Shakti. Recently I read a Chapter in Guruji’s memoir on his time in India when he studied Hatha yoga, with the great teacher Hari Dass Baba, who played a major role in his search for a guru. At one point Hari Dass suggested he try to awaken his inner energy.(Sadly, Hari Dass Baba passed away on September 25 at the age of 95.)
From his notes with Hari Dass, Swamiji writes:
One day Hari Dass takes me aside and tells me, ‘You need something subtle.’ He speaks to me about the branch of yoga closest to his heart, kundalini, the divine inner power. The word kundalini has an intoxicating effect on me. The idea that there is an untapped potential within me, a mysterious power, meshes with my own intuition.
Hari Dass’ notes give a number of methods of awakening kundalini. This is the first:
‘Sit on an asan. Do dhyan of triangle at muladhara. This triangle is like a fire. Kundalini is sleeping here winding around the bhu-linga. When muladhar becomes clear in dhyana, then do pranayama and do kumbhak and apply jalandar bandha and mool bandha. The breath inside will be pushed inside to the muladhara and will hit the head of kundalini. Think that as you are hitting the kundalini it is raising its head upwards. Daily practise will awaken kundalini.’
Hari Dass tells me to practise the Shakti chalini mudra to get the awakening. This is how that mudra is described in my notes:
‘Sit in a room all alone in sidhasana. Inhale breath slowly. Stop breath. Pull anus several times. The apan vayu will climb up and will unite with this breath at manipur.’
Manipur is the third, or navel chakra, and the meaning of the text is that the pranic energy is to be pulled up from the base chakra to the navel regional’s. The marvellous injunction to ‘pull anus several times’ referee to the classical practice of moola bhandha. In it, the anus, or more properly the perineum, is contracted and pulled upwards. There are two more of these bhandhas, or locks, one at the stomach and one at the throat. A Hatha yogi often practises them simultaneously, locking up his energy system by their application in order to experience higher states of consciousness.
After receiving this instruction, I set to work. Every morning I sit by the Ganges to meditate, visualising the pranic energy moving from the region of the anus to the navel. After some days, I think I can feel a movement in the lower part of my body. Am I imagining it or is it real? Still, there is no major experience, no explosion of mystic power.
I am intensely frustrated. I know that the Indian mind is very different from the Western one. Can the concept of kundalini be some sort of Hindu hyperbole? Can quintessentially rational man get his leaden apparatus off the ground? I begin to doubt it.
I bring my doubts to Hari Dass. He encourages me and tells me that everything happens little by little. He gives me a new technique, mahabandha. In meditation, I am to inhale and hold my breath, then apply the moola bandha and udyana bandha. Now I raise my buttocks and strike them twenty times firmly on the floor, then exhale slowly. Now I inhale again and pull my anus and navel together several times, then repeat the whole process. First, I do three repetitions, then five, and then ten.
I enjoy the practice and the challenge and while I feel that I am making some sort of progress, I still have not achieved irrefutable proof that the kundalini power is real.
Guruji’s work with Hari Dass prepared him for shaktipat and it finally happened spontaneously one afternoon when he looked into Baba’s eyes and the Shakti, was transmitted. As Guruji has said, “This moment was a moment of, ‘two wires sparking each other.'”
How easy! This kindled a lifetime of devotion, obedience, passion and service to the Guru.
Likewise, Baba awakened by Bhagavan Nityananda’s grace. He writes how one afternoon Bhagavan transmitted shaktipat by looking into his eyes when he gave Baba a pair of his sandals. As he made his way home the energy intensified. He writes:
As I came out of the hall, I kept raising the sandals to my head. I ate the vegetables he gave me, one by one, and smelt the flowers he had given me. The smoothness, the beauty, and the magnificence of the shawl he had given me, delighted me. My mind, that had been still in his presence, now became active. But, there was none of the dryness, the frustration, the frivolity, the anguish, the depression, the stupidity or anxiety that there had been in the rush of my thoughts.
Instead, there was ecstasy, rapture, zeal and enthusiasm. As my thoughts sped past. I remembered the Gurupadukashtakam: by his Grace I was healed, and the pain of many births was gone.
From this story we can see that the Guru’s grace, or Shakti is intelligent, compassionate, and loving. Even though it happens in God’s time, the Shakti is independent and moves freely through each of us.
The Shakti wakes us up; She shows us the Guru, the Self, or Consciousness as a divine presence. She gives us the great gift of experiencing the eternal; to experience the eternal is no ordinary experience.
After shaktipat meditation deepens and we may experience inner planes we haven’t explored before. We no longer need to be afraid of our inner world. We discover that there is nothing but our own Self in there. Our own inner world is full of the beauty and wonder of our own Self. Doubt fades as inner certainty grows in the Shakti.
It is true that there is work to be done. Shakti purifies and activates the mind and emotions—and sometimes they can run amok torturing us. She can bring up past hurts, present hurts, or the fear of future hurts. But always, She works to heal, restore, replenish and free. She brings unconscious suffering to the light and transforms it. But the Guru also gives us the antidote to suffering: meditation, mantra, teachings, and Satsang to calm inner turmoil.
If we surrender to the process of the unfolding Shakti and do not resist the movement of Her flow then we become illumined by Her grace. As Shakti releases tension in the body and strengthens it by sending energy to all of the organs and subtle nerves we can feel an immediate difference. She moves through the subtle body towards blocks and contraction with the intention to free us. As Her devotees, we observe, watch, and witness.
When we receive the divine spark from the Guru, we will have experiences according to our nature.
If we are intellectually oriented the Shakti will strengthen the intellect. Insight and understanding can arise. Confusion, dryness and fear will subside the meditator will begin to understand more subtle ideas. Satisfactory answers to baffling questions can be revealed. The mind begins to have faith in the process of the inner flow and mystery of divinity.
A devotional or feeling person will begin to experience sublime love. Sadness and despair will wane. The heart will open and love for one’s self, for humanity and the desire to serve will arise. The mind becomes absorbed in love and becomes one-pointed and focused. The negative thoughts that focus on a lack of love, now feel love is possible–love of self and love of others.
A vital or doing person might experience the dissolving of cravings and the need for pleasure as the Shakti moves through the body. Anger will lessen as satisfaction is found in higher understanding. The desire to exercise and become fit may arise. He or she may feel the strength to give up addictions to food, drugs, sex or other habits that sap vitality. Creativity and inspiration flow as meditation becomes a daily practice.
In the late 70s when I was living in the Los Angeles ashram helping prepare for Baba’s visit there I was struggling in my relationship with two friends. One was working on media program. Guruji would go on radio and television interviews to talk about Baba’s forthcoming visit to LA. The other, a former college teacher, was a friend from Ann Arbor. She booked talks for Guruji at universities, colleges, clubs and other places. At my suggestion she had come to LA from Oakland to specifically do this work.
They were united in their work for Baba and that made me happy. However, they both became very cold toward me. They excluded me from conversations. When I went to say hello to them in their office, they gave me the cold shoulder. Inwardly I withdrew my support and love.
After months of feeling separate, I became furious and jealous. One afternoon I asked them if we could talk. I had a difficult time articulating how I felt. I stammered a few statements about not being included. The more I tried to speak the more my heart was in turmoil, the more alienated I felt and the more withdrawn they became. I realised I could not restore intimacy this way.
I wondered if it was all in my mind. I realised it was my problem. I went upstairs to my room, lay down on my bed and prayed to Baba for help. My attention became focused on my heart chakra. There was a knot of tension, the size of a baseball, sitting there. The ache was intense and I began to cry. As I became more focused the contraction grew worse. I was angry, sorry for myself, jealous, and afraid. I felt betrayed and grief welled up in me. I found it difficult to breathe and I began to hyperventilate. ‘Please Baba,’ I prayed, ‘take this away.’
It seemed to go on for hours but it was probably about twenty minutes later that I felt a subtle crack in the tension in my heart, as though it was breaking. As the crack widened I detected a ray of light coming from the top of my head. It flowed down my third eye, into my throat and then my heart. There was a milky veil around my heart. It was like a fish net that trapped and held my negative reactions. I could feel my resistance to letting them go; and so they could not escape. Every time a bad feeling arose the fish wiggled and squirmed. Every imagined slight, every frustration from feeling left out, was flapping about in my heart. And, not just from this situation but from other similar ones. As I watch and acknowledged my hurt the tension and negativity began to ease. I said to myself: I am hurt; I am jealous; I am angry.
As I became conscious of my feelings my heart warmed and brightened. The ball of tension slowly unravelled. Emotions still played but they were no longer trapped. I watched them without feeling overwhelmed. My inner being softened, as the energy moved; it flowed in and out of my heart. The net dissolved and after a few minutes I was free of tension. I lay there basking and relieved in my new found peace and relief.
I knew that those types of feelings might still arise, but I also knew that my heart would never nurse them again in the same way. This was a profound moment. From then on I was able to let go of hurt, most of the time, as it arose and not let it ruin my experience of myself for days at a time. Only occasionally did it take me awhile to get over feelings like these, and it was hours rather than days.
This is the power of Shaktipat and meditation.
Once, in Ganeshpuri, I went to meditate at Baba Muktananda’s Samadhi shrine. I experience him often as Shakti, as love, as power, but I don’t often hear from him with words. This time he spoke to me while I was meditating.
He said, ‘talk about the lineage, talk about it all the time in everything you do.’ It was a definite inner command, not to be ignored. It is a great joy to talk about the Gurus of the Siddha tradition. Siddha means ‘perfect’ but perfect does not refer to the person rather it refers to a state of Consciousness, born from discipleship.
People do themselves a great disservice by thinking that ‘the age of the guru is dead’. They deprive themselves and others of a rare experience. True Gurus are knowers of the truth. They calm a restless mind and heal a broken heart. They transmit the experience of cosmic Consciousness. They guide us toward our highest potential–becoming everything we can and want to be. They give us what we truly want and need. They never abandon us. They transmit divine energy. They point us to the authentic Self.
In Play of Consciousness Baba writes:
Realisation of God is possible only through a Guru. Illuminated with knowledge, the Guru is a descendant of the Absolute. We should acquire the sublime grace of such a Guru, for until the Kundalini Shakti is awakened by the Guru’s grace, our inner light does not shine, the inner eye of divine knowledge does not open, and our state of bondage cannot be lifted. To develop inwardly, to attain divinity, and to arrive at the state of Parashiva, a guide is absolutely necessary—a Sadguru who knows the truth perfectly, who has spiritual power. The glory of the Guru is full of mystery and is supremely divine. He gives a new birth to everyone, he gives them the experience of knowledge, he shows them sadhana (spiritual practice) and makes them lovers of God.
The first time I meditated was also the first time I met Baba. I was invited to meet him as part of a psychology group. I was curious as I walked into the room. Baba was sitting on a small sofa, answering questions. The room was alive and still at the same time. His bright orange clothes blazed warmth in the fall chill. As I sat down I glanced up at him. Our eyes met and although no words were spoken, I felt welcomed. There was laughter as he told a story. He said that everyone had an inner Self and that happiness could be found within. As he spoke I felt an inner pull and my attention was drawn to close my eyes. The room faded as I grew drowsy and the last thing I remember is my head falling forward. I came back to the room with a start to Danny poking me on the shoulder. Time had passed. I did not want to leave but we had to pick up a friend at the airport.
Now my meditation is different. Occasionally I have deep samadhi experiences but more usual now is to make contact with myself. I sit with myself and watch my own Consciousness and what I hold in awareness. I encourage you to:
Be with yourself.
Explore your Consciousness.
Get to know yourself.
See how your mind works.
Let your mind become quiet.
Make contact with yourself.
Let the play of thought and feeling pass through your mind without grabbing them.
Baba once said, ‘Love of Self is cultivated by meditation.’
Of course if the mind bothers you and refuses to quiet there is the mantra. In Play of Consciousness, Baba writes about his mantra initiation from Bhagavan:
When he told me repeat ‘Om Namah Shivaya, all is Om’ ‘Shivo’ham, I am Shiva’, he gave me the undying message of Shiva the immortal Lord. …This great supreme and radiant mantra of Parashiva destroyed the innumerable sounds that had been rising in the space within my heart since time without end, making me wander through endless births and rebirths. He had destroyed the endless array of impure feelings, the lust, the anger, the delusion arising from the notion of ‘I and mine’. He had transmitted into my heart that might mantra, which is entirely Shiva, filled with the light of Consciousness, forever rising, luminous embodying the truth of ‘I am perfect,’ the transcendent word of Shakti. In the flames of his grace, he had burned away the accumulated sins and karmic impressions of birth after birth….
If asked what did Guruji receive from Baba I can say with confidence, ‘he received Baba’s heart’. Once in India, we visited the father of Gurumayi and Swami Nityananda. He was a devotee of Bhagavan Nityananda and Baba. His father glanced at Guruji saying, ‘he carries Nityananda’s light.’
This is a short talk I gave on Guru Purnima Saturday night.
Tonight, is a special occasion. We are celebrating and honouring the Guru. Not only do we honour our own Guruji but we also celebrate our great lineage of Sadgurus—Bhagavan Nityananda and Baba Muktananda.
Guru Purnima means ‘perfect Guru’. However, this epithet does not refer to a perfect person. It refers to the state of Consciousness the Guru has attained. It is a state of oneness, wisdom and compassion. It is their connection to the divine power, Shakti. This is a state we can achieve if we commit to the process of unfolding the inner shakti.
The Guru’s purpose is to awaken the shakti of seekers, and to share their state with those searching relief from suffering and ignorance of the Self. Gurus like ours, offer everyone the possibility and opportunity to attain their divine state by means of sadhana.
When I think of Guru Purnima my mind turns to the moment when I received Shaktipat. When I entered the meditation hall on the first morning of the Intensive I had no idea what to expect. I thought I was going to learn a little bit about meditation and how to calm my mind.
I was unprepared for the explosion of energy and love that lay hidden within my being. When Swamiji touched me at the third eye, and bopped me with the feathers, my life was transformed from one of darkness, to one of light.
My vision of myself and the world radically changed. I went from misery to bliss, from the mundane to the divine, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, even though there have been many bumps on the road since then, my connection with the Self has remained.
It took a few days after the Intensive, but eventually I realised that I had found something I did not know existed or that I wanted—I had found my Guru. In appreciation for that shift in Consciousness I committed myself to serve the Guru and do the Guru’s work, whatever that may be.
Guruji’s greatest gift to me, besides shaktipat, has been the innumerable opportunities he has given me to serve our community and satang. He has given my life purpose and meaning, inspiration and creativity. There is no greater gift than this.
I am deeply grateful to him, to Baba and to Bhagavan for their dedication, perseverance and tapasya. Without their devotion to their Guru, we would not have what we have.
The poet saint Kabir wrote:
He is the real Sadguru: Who reveals the formless as our own Self. Who teaches the simple way of attaining Him; Who does not make us close the doors, hold the breath, and renounce the world; Who teaches us to perceive the Supreme Spirit, wherever our mind goes; Who teaches us to be still, in the midst of all activities. Who keeps the spirit of oneness, in the midst of the world. Who shows us the infinite dwelling of the Infinite Being in everything: in the earth, in the water, in the sky, and in the air; Who, is as firm as the thunderbolt, until we are established in the Self. The Sadguru is within, he is without: Kabir says, I see Him and only Him everywhere.
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 dealing with a smear campaign is 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 from the anger and hatred directed at me, and the ashram by former friends and students. My love and support for them seems to have been forgotten.
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.
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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.