How To Know God

imgres-1

Translated with a commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Vedanta Press  ISBN 0 87481 041 8

I recommend this book for beginning practitioners who want to deepen their understanding of meditation and yoga.

 

 

The authors offer us a clear exposition of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. There are wonderful anecdotes and metaphors that explain the complex mental gymnastics of yoga.

Yogis often use sleep as an analogy to describe a deep state of meditation and how we come close to the inner Self in sleep. Sutra 1.10 states, ‘Sleep is a wave of thought about nothingness’. The writers explain that the sleep state is actually a ‘positive experience of nothingness’. There is a sense of self, a witness of our experience, even when we sleep for when we awaken we know that we slept.

In my early years of meditation I went into a deep trance state that felt similar to sleep except that when I came out of it I felt a lot of energy. Over time I became more awake in my meditation, more conscious of what was happening in my mind. My meditation went from ‘sleep’ to ‘waking’. True to Patanjali’s sutra, I was aware of what had happened both when I was ‘asleep’ and when I ‘awoke’.

Another striking commentary is Sutra 1.36: ‘Concentration may also be attained by fixing the mind upon the Inner Light, which is beyond sorrow.’

‘The ancient yogis believed that there was an actual centre of spiritual consciousness, call the “lotus of the heart”, situated between the abdomen and the thorax, which could be revealed in deep meditation. They claimed that it had the form of a lotus and that it shone with an inner light. It was said to be “beyond sorrow”, since those who saw it were filled with an extraordinary sense of peace and joy.’

Their writing is inspirational and encouraging. They reassure us that with perseverance we can attain ‘peace and joy.’

Seeking and Finding

I was not looking to worship another;

I was seeking an end to self-hatred.

I was not seeking a marriage;

I was seeking a higher purpose.

1250_40491382163_7288_n
On the Ganges in Kankhal 2007.

I was not seeking pleasure;

I was yearning for lasting happiness.

I did not want to be wilful;

I was looking for the one who could hold my heart.

I was not afraid of life;

I was seeking refuge.

I did not want to leave the world;

I was searching for my place in it.

I was not seeking a religion;

I was yearning for God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer to Shree Gurudev

muktananda-01
Baba Muktananda with Bhagawan Nityananda

By Swami Muktananda

This is my prayer to Sri Gurudev!
May everyone’s life be a paradise.

May the trivial feeling of ‘I and mine’ disappear,
and may the knowledge of Chiti arise in our hearts.

May all beings worship you with love and equanimity,
and may the movement of our breath ever repeat So’ham.

Bless me, that I may worship you with the awareness of you as the Self of all.

May I abandon distinctions of race, religion, and language,
and keep my mind in purity.

May I behold you, Gurunath, in the great and small,
the suffering and poor, the noble and foolish.

Give me simplicity of mind, a humble spirit, and a generous heart.

May I bestow true knowledge.

Grant me this boon, Gurudev, O Self of all!
May I always meditate on you in the temple of my heart

May I always love the all-pervasive light.
May I always be devoted to you, O Guru.

Let my awareness be steadfast in knowledge, yoga, and meditation.

May I ever be a worshiper of Siddha Vidya;
may my mind merge with Chitshakti.

May I always behold in you Rama, Krishna, Shiva, and Shakti.

May I live in Ganeshpuri, where your Siddha Yoga dwells.

Set me free from distinctions of country, language, sect, and race,
and give me equality of vision.

May everyone attain simplicity, truth, courage, valour, discretion and radiance.

May the world be a garden of joy for all,
complete with the wishing tree and the wishing cow.

May Siddha students become masters of their senses
and take delight in Kriya Yoga.

O Gurunath! May I always see you within the temple of the human heart
and feel fulfilled.

Let me fulfill my duties so long as there is life in this body,
and let me remember you constantly.

Let my life be full of my own labor, Gurunath.

May I meditate on you always.

O Gurudev! Grant me this at least: may I always be united with you.

May I behold you always and everywhere, from east to west, from north to south.

You are Parashiva, invisible and pure; you are the very form of Satchidananda.

The universe is in you; you are in the universe;
there is no differentiation in you; you are unsurpassed, unique.

Muktananda Says: Sri Gurunath! May the Siddha Science come to full flower. May our meditation be dynamic. May we find repose in the Blue Pearl.

May I always wander joyfully in the world, and may you abide forever in my heart.

Muktananda says:
O Gurunath! May our lives be the play of universal Consciousness!

Peace Symposium September 2012

A few years ago I was invited to speak at an Islamic women’s conference at a mosque in Melbourne. What follows are my thoughts on peace.

Thank you to our hosts for presenting this program today, and thank you for inviting me, and my colleagues to participate.

My Gurus have taught me that to welcome another person with love and respect is the true goal of meditation and spirituality. They also say that in order to do that we must first learn to love and accept ourselves, and then we can share that love with everyone.

The issue of Global Peace has become more urgent since the rise of terrorism in the late 70s and after 9/11. For many middle Eastern, and a few European countries terrorism has been a constant threat. 9/11 woke up the Americas in a dramatic way. Now, suddenly, there were terrorist threats in our homes and our loved ones were dying.

The question arises, ‘is peace possible?’

Classically there are two views on attaining peace. One you could call the ‘external’ point of view. If you change the government and you don’t allow selfish, greedy and rich people to run things from their self-interest then you have a chance for peace.

The other the ‘internal’ says that as long as there is violence in the individual heart, aggression is translated into domestic violence, social violence and global violence.

We cannot have peace in the world when there is a lack of peace in the hearts and minds of individuals. The mystic GI Gurdjieff used to say: ‘external consider always, internal consider never.’

Internal considering is when we imagine how others see us and we react to that imagining. When we internal consider we worry about how we look to others, what others think of us, whether we are more intelligent, more beautiful, richer, or more successful, have more or can do more. We can become obsessed with ourselves. We are so concerned about ourselves that we are blind and deaf to others. There is no friendship, no communication, and no understanding when we are caught in self-concern.

External considering is the opposite. We focus our attention and awareness on the ‘other’ and speak to the listening of the other person. A wise person always hears first and speaks second. They are free of self-concern, self-pity. External considering creates oneness. It is from this place that solutions, negotiation, agreement can be found.

The great sage Sai Baba of Shirdi said about his devotees, ‘I give them what they want until they want what I have to give.’ In other words if they came asking for a blessing to have a baby, he gave it. If they came looking for a dowry for their daughter’s marriage, he gave it. If they came looking for money, he gave it. He did not lecture them on what they should or should not want or, that they should be asking for spiritual enlightenment. But when they asked for that, he gave it.

tumblr_ma5130UznZ1qg2xvoo1_1280I was an activist in the 70s for a short time. I was working for a Youth Hostel funded by the Canadian Federal Government. When the funding ended the residents took to the streets in protest. The riot police showed up ready for battle. It became violent and I began to question the effectiveness of political activism. As I watched the police brutally beat my fellow demonstrators I understood that if I was going to work for peace it would not be in politics. Fortunately I was dragged away by a friend and was not arrested. That day my spiritual search began.

A few years later I was fortunate to meet a Guru whose teachings resonated within me, and whose energy woke me to a spiritual life. I began to do ‘sadhana’, serious work on myself. I learned to meditate.

Meditation has shown me all the good and not so good things about myself. It has taught me that Divinity is within me but it also taught me that I had unconscious fear, anger and sorrow that needed to be addressed. I learned to recognise negative emotion when it arose within me and to not speak or act out of it. As I meditated I began to understand myself and accept myself. As I accepted myself and learned to love myself my anger, fear and sadness lessened.

To commit to non-violence within one’s own heart is an act of great compassion. It is not easy.

My teacher Swami Shankarananda says: ‘Tell the truth don’t get angry’ meaning that we need to find the razor’s edge of truth and kindness in our communication. We can say what we have to say if we have compassion.

He also says: there is no good situation that a bad attitude cannot ruin, and there is no bad situation that a good attitude cannot improve. It is important to examine whether our attitude or understanding is contributing to peace or inflaming conflict.

One of the major blocks to inner peace and good communication within an individual is blame. When things go wrong the mind automatically asks, ‘Who is responsible? Who’s at fault? Who can I blame?’

Blame and finding fault can destroy love, can destroy relationships, destroy family unity and creates enmity where there was friendship.

In the Hindu Trinity of Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution, love is the sustaining power. When we give our love and devotion openly and freely to our nearest and dearest, to our work, to our friends, to our lives, we have peace in our lives. If we withdraw our love from the life we have built then we create instability, confusion, separation and uncertainty.

The poet saint Rabia wrote:

I have two ways of loving You: one is selfish and the other is worthy of You. In my selfish love, I remember You and You alone. 
In that other love, You lift the veil
 and I feast my eyes on Your Living Face.

2017-03-05-13-02-37
The Islamic tiles in our Interfaith Garden.

As Rabia says, the minute we give our attention and our devotion to that which really matters we see and feel divine love. The power of our heart to love is perhaps the greatest power we have. Rabia inspires us to overcome the blocks to our love, our connection to the Self and to the Divine. Is your heart available? Is your heart open? Is your heart generous?

Women particularly feel the burden of violence. We do want those we love, our children, our husbands, our fathers or mothers going off to war to die at the hands of terrorists. We also want to protect them from the temptations of a worldly life that separates them from the family unit. And so the task of educating children to think and feel responsibly falls to mothers.

A few years ago I was on pilgrimage in India to visit the samadhi shrine of Bhagawan Nityananda, the spiritual source of the divine energy of my lineage. One afternoon while meditating I silently asked him if he had a teaching for me. As I listened for an answer I heard a voice, ‘Always return to love, especially when you do not want to.’

The famous guitarist Jimi Hendrix said: When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.

Consciousness Is Everything

34246_412904862163_4720446_nConsciousness Is Everything:
The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism 

Swami Shankarananda
Shaktipat Press
ISBN 0 9750995

By focusing on the revelation of supreme Consciousness
He unveils the inner Self. Thus great Shiva unfolds
His prodigious game of bondage and liberation.
Abhinavagupta, Paramarthasara, Verse 33

‘Swami Shankarananda has succeeded in making Kashmir’s Shaiva Yoga come alive in these pages, and I consider this work the best introduction to that tradition thus far.’ Georg Feuerstein

Two main spiritual philosophies flow from Hinduism. One is grounded in the Vedas and the other in the Tantras. The Vedic school was and perhaps still is, patriarchal, elitist and available only to educated Brahmin boys and men, while Tantra is a path for householders, which includes women and people of all castes. The Vedas encourage renunciation and retreat from the world, while Tantra engages with the world and uses daily life as food for spiritual transformation.

The heart of the Tantras is expressed in Kashmir Shaivism, a philosophy brought to the West by two gurus, Swami Muktananda of Ganeshpuri, India, and Lakshman Joo of Kashmir.

Vedanta and Shaivism clash in their basic premise. Vedanta considers the world to be maya, delusion and only ‘Brahman [the Absolute] is real’ while Shaivism contends that, ´Everything is Consciousness’. These two radically opposing points of view resolve only when a seeker attains knowledge of the Self.

There are few Shaivite texts that, unless you are a scholar, offer Westerners a way into its esoteric and mysterious teachings. However, Swami Shankarananda has managed to write a lucid and approachable book that outlines the beauty and power of this dynamic teaching. He uses anecdotes from his own meditation, his profound wisdom and wealth of teaching experience to explain the enigmatic aphorisms. The contemplations Swamiji has outlined in this book guide the meditator to a practical understanding of Shaivism. He writes:

Kashmir Shaivism is a philosophy of salvation—not just an intellectual system. It provides methods, a system practice, designed to attain moksha, liberation from the material world and Self-realisation. And so, it discusses sadhana: meditation techniques and understandings that are useful today.

Kashmir Shaivism is full of the light and wonder of spirituality. It is compassionate, intelligent, wise and powerful. These teachings spontaneously uplift and transform the mind, guiding it toward one of the highest possible understandings of life and the inner Self.

Buy online now.

 

Lady of the Lotus

Lady of the Lotus
William E. Barrett
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: O 87477 506 X

‘Lady of the Lotus’ is a tender and compelling read. Based in historical research with a fictional twist by the author’s imagination, it tells a tale of love, tragedy, seeking, finding, and finally liberation. 

41ZTsaAaU-L._AC_US160_.jpgWilliam Barrett is the besting novelist and author of The Lilies of the Field and The Left Hand of God. In this historical romantic drama which is subtitled, The Untold Love Story of the Buddha and His Wife he brings to light, in intimate detail, the spiritual journey of Yasodhara, the wife of Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha. Barrett’s narrative elegantly and tenderly moves through the unfolding of her engagement and marriage and her inner process as she loses her husband to his search for enlightenment.

There are hundreds and hundreds of books on and about the Buddha. There are even hundreds written about his son. This book is perhaps the only attempt at discovering who Yasodhara was and her relationship to the Buddha’s unfolding quest. Barrett’s imagination and research not only gives body to her life but also creates a very human Siddhartha, who we know became one of the greatest Gurus and holy men the world has known.  In his introduction Barrett comments:

The story of Siddhartha, ultimately the Buddha, and Yasodhara, Princess of Koli, is one of the great romances of world history, a love story unlike any other. In doing the research, I have built a personal library of Buddhism-Hinduism-India-Nepal that total 430 volumes. I have talked to many Buddhist scholars, Buddhist monks, missionaries of other faiths in Buddhist countries. I have walked where Siddharta and Yasodhara walked, in Nepal and In India. I have followed the trails that led outward from the beginnings to Burma, Thailand, Japan, Malaya, Hong Kong. It is, in the telling, a story that I know well in lands that I know. I have had to build many intuitive bridges but I believe that the bridges are sound, that this is the story as it was.

This is a book of faith and transformation, not just for the Buddha, but for his whole family and for those who in the beginning loved him personally and along the way learned to love him for his spiritual genius as well.

 

Avoid The Lagoon Of No Shakti

‘One should perceive the inner Self through the gift of the Guru’s grace. By this path of the Guru, knowledge of one’s Self arises.’ (Guru Gita verse 110)

img_0422
Kailas Nivas

Love, love and more love are the words to describe Ganeshpuri. The villagers, the children, the temple priests and the animals exude love. ‘Jai Nityananda’ can be heard all day long from devotees celebrating their love of the Guru.

We are nine days into our retreat. In the mornings we have been meditating in Kailas Nivas, Bhagawan’s ashram. It is where he lived until shortly before he took mahasamadhi, his death. My meditations in Kailas have been fruitful, peaceful, grounded in the Self.

This morning the voice of the Self spoke to me in meditation, ‘there is no there’ it said. I felt a powerful unity consciousness. My two worlds, the places where my heart sings—the ashram in Mount Eliza and the ashram of the village of Ganeshpuri had become one. There was no difference. There was no tomorrow, no present and no yesterday; there was only the ‘sky of Consciousness’. Devotion for the Guru, the feeling of intimacy with that which I hold most dear was bubbling in my heart.

The Guru/disciple relationship is everywhere in Ganeshpuri. There are at least eight Samadhi temples where disciples still tend their Gurus’ homes even though many of them died decades ago. The relationship to the Guru is not a temporary one it is eternal. It is no ordinary relationship. Once made it cannot be broken for long.

Once in Ann Arbor in the early days of my relationship with Guruji I was upset with him. I was burning in my anger. I felt compelled to confront him. I do not remember what it was about but it had something to do with wanting something that he wasn’t giving me. I ran to his room and knocked boldly. He opened the door, took one look at me and slammed it in my face.

The rage boiled up in me. But then as I stood there staring at the closed door something shifted. I realized that I was behaving like I behaved in every personal relationship. I knew that I did not need another personal relationship. I was confused by them and tired of them. I needed a Guru. I laughed and walked away.

It hasn’t always been like this. In the past I have sometimes let my ego get in the way of devotion. If you let it, the Guru’s tests can burn the heart, dry up devotion, and erase the memory of bliss. These tests are a tapasya, a fire that can burn the ego to ashes. The Guru will, in the course of sadhana challenge expectations, imaginary wishes, dreams or hopes that arise from the ego. The Guru burns up weakness, tendencies that lead to delusion and suffering.

Over the years from time to time I have fallen into withdrawal and separation from the Guru and the Self out of jealousy, fear, anger and grief. The worst moments have been when my mind plummets into the darkness of these emotions. In those times wisdom and love vanish, and good will disappears. I am left with negative thoughts and a contraction in the heart. Devotion is gone.

In Satsang With Baba he speaks about what happens when the disciple temporarily loses touch with Guru’s grace:

You can achieve perfection in Siddha Yoga only through the grace of a siddha, a realized master. The yoga that you receive through the grace of the guru will also be consummated by his grace, and there is no doubt about it. Generally it is seen that once you receive the grace of the Guru you don’t lose it easily.

The Guru is not like an ordinary businessman who would refuse to serve you a cup of tea if you don’t pay the price. Even if the disciple would behave foolishly and turn away from the Guru, a siddha Guru would not become angry with him for quite some time. If a disciple has received the Guru’s grace, why should he be so stupid as to lose it? Why should he begin to live such an impure life that he would lose the grace in the course of time? Why should he be so ungrateful?

Baba’s words speak directly to the dilemma a disciple faces. I have learned that there is no event or circumstance worth giving up oneness with the Self, or the flow of Guru’s grace. I cannot stand the feeling of separation even for a second. To deprive myself of the relationship to the Guru, to the Shakti, to the Self, is a living hell.

I have learned that it is always possible to return to Guru’s grace. When I look honestly at myself, when I see how anger hurts me then there is an opening to see what I have lost. Taking responsibility is the key, not blaming others. It takes humility and an admission of wrong understanding. Wrong understanding leads to what Guruji calls ‘the lagoon of no Shakti.’ He also says, ‘there is no positive situation that a bad attitude cannot ruin. There is no negative situation that a good attitude cannot improve.’

Baba also wrote:

I accept the love of the entire world…I accept the love of everyone and I give my love to everyone without any distinction. I never ask anyone what he shall give me in return for my love.

Baba’s state of Consciousness is the goal of the guru/disciple relationship. And this is the state of Consciousness the Guru bestows on the disciple.

Yoga School Drop-Out

I love to read spiritual books. Perhaps my favourites are biographies describing ‘sadhana’ or spiritual journeys. Who hasn’t wanted to manifest the ‘life plan’!

imgresYoga School Drop-out

Lucy Edge, Ebury Press ISBN 009189922 2

Lucy, a high flying British advertising executive is disenchanted with life. Realizing she needs a change she travels to India hoping to discover the secret to happiness and a gorgeous man.

“The Plan: find a guru and return a yoga goddess – a magnetic babe attracting strong and sweaty yet emotionally vulnerable men with my pretzel like body and compassionate grace.

Needless to say things didn’t work out quite as planned. Yoga School Dropout describes my journey from the ad agencies of London into the arms of the Hugging Mothers and Swoony Swamis of Kerala. I encountered the Gucci’d Guru of Pune, an enlightened waiter from Rishikesh and faked an orgasm for a Tantric washing machine repairman from Byron Bay.”

Lucy visits many trendy yoga schools and ashrams and writes honestly of her impressions. As she navigates the pitfalls of her self-worth in the yoga world she eventually learns to love and accept herself.

.

A Reflection on Death

‘There is suffering,’ said the Buddha when he attained enlightenment. As to whether he experienced any joy or relief in the moments after his realisation is unclear. There is no record of any obvious hallelujah, ecstatic uttering or celebration. However his next statement, thankfully, was, ‘It can be overcome.’

As a young boy the Buddha’s parents protected him from seeing life’s passages. The shock of confronting illness, old age and death created such despair in him that he left everything that was dear to him in order to understand the true meaning of life. Death was an enigma and he was unwilling to settle for platitudes.

Recently I had to undergo some medical procedures. And even though my doctors were positive that I would come out of them without dire consequences, which is the case, my mind turned toward death. As a young woman anxious about the future I used to wonder, ‘What will I be like at 30? Where will I be when I am 40? What will I be doing at 50? What does the future hold at 60? Where will I be when I am dead? I felt a definite shift in attitude when I realised I was much closer to death than birth. Death could be the next big event in my life.

Every year I try to go to India on retreat. There, death is present, visible on almost every street corner. Dogs, chickens, cows and people forage in the sewers and garbage piles, beggars plead verbally and subtly for their survival, young boys pander their wares at stoplights, and workers live openly in the streets, bathing, defecating, procreating, eating—everything happens on the street. No transition is hidden. Every creature and person lives on the brink and survival is a constant threat.

God too is everywhere. Shops announce their wares with signs in brightly coloured letters: Krishna Imports, Radha Saris, and Shiva Dosa. The names of the Lord are used to entice customers into shops. Small temples, home to various deities, are visible on every other street, and not just Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Moslem also. Priests pay homage and offer prayers every moment of the day. Perhaps their prayers mitigate the fight for survival. Yet, behind the struggle the atmosphere is alive with a subtle joy.

The Vedas teach that we are more than a body/mind complex and that when we shift our identification from the material, the body, to the eternal, the inner Self, we gain a truer sense of who we are. Death is considered a return to the Divine. When the body perishes, the inner Self, the Atman, which is eternal, is reabsorbed into Supreme Consciousness. It is similar to a deep meditation in which the consciousness of an individual merges into the inner Self and becomes one with it.

Self-realised yogis take what is called maha samadhi, the great absorption, at death. Generally their lives have been devoted to service, meditation and spiritual practice. They attained the highest states of Consciousness possible for a human being. Hence they are considered conduits for the grace of God.

While in India I seek out the company of two saints who passed away many years ago. Their passing, although a cause of grief for devotees at the time, is honoured by burial of their bodies in shrines. Saints, gurus, swamis and children are buried – everyone else is cremated.

421575_10150712280667164_734907163_9195921_1224671515_n
Bhagawan Nityananda’s Samadhi Shrine Ganeshpuri

India is full of Samadhi shrines of Gurus, saints and yogis, some who died centuries ago, some more recently. These Samadhi temples (places of burial) are a haven for pilgrims looking to overcome suffering and for spiritual upliftment. At death devotees continue to worship their Guru as the pure energy of the Self. It is believed that Gurus bestow blessings, teachings, grace and love, long after they have left their bodies.

My first experience of meeting a saint long buried whose Shakti, spiritual energy is still present was in 1978 when I went on pilgrimage in India with Baba Muktananda. I wasn’t convinced that it was possible for a person’s energy to be present after death, and such a long time. We visited one of the most famous Samadhi shrines in India at Alandi, a small village where the young yogi, Jnaneshwar took ‘live’ samadhi in the 11th century. He was a brilliant and much loved Guru who attained Self-realisation in his early teens.

When Jnaneshwar was twenty-two he told his devotees that he was going to take maha samadhi. He asked them to dig a hole in the ground. He told them that he was going to sit in the hole and enter meditation. They were to cover him with dirt and leave him, which they did. The story of his death continues when several hundred years after his burial another yogi, Eknath Maharaj, had a dream in which Jnaneshwar told him that he was being choked by the root of a neem tree that grew close to his body. Eknath dug up the grave to find the body warm and alive, although Jnaneshwar was still in a meditative trance. He removed the root that was around Jnaneshwar’s neck and again covered him over. I had heard that devotees believed Jnaneshwar to be still alive. I was skeptical. It seemed impossible and frightening. I cannot think of a more terrifying death than being buried alive.

jnanesh
Jnaneshwar’s Samadhi Shrine

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

I looked up into the face of the Brahmin priest across from me as he reached out to stop me from falling on top of Jnaneshwar’s head. He was smiling in amused agreement. I unsteadily rose to my feet with his help. I was intoxicated. I couldn’t believe it. Jnaneshwar’s presence was still there. Disbelief vanished in the face of the powerful energy and love pulsating from the lingam.

In the dusty villages of India birth and death are family matters. There are few doctors in rural India and certainly no embalmer. And so it is left to tribal and village rituals to manage life’s transitions.

During my last visit to India in February this year my guru’s elderly drum teacher, Potya, unexpectedly passed away. He worked on the corner of Kailas, Bhagavan’s ashram,  handing out water to thirsty pilgrims. I looked forward to seeing his smiling face when I walked past on my way to meditate or shop. He spoke no English and he waved, or folded his hands in a silent hello.

potya
Potya drumming at Kothavala

A few days before I was to return to Melbourne, I noticed that the door to his water stand was closed, and the next day also. I wondered where he was. One morning Percy, the owner of the hotel where I stay told me that Potya had had a massive heart attack. Apparently, he had not been feeling well during the days he was missing from his post and had gone to the local hospital, an hour away where he had died. Percy asked me if I wanted to go to the funeral and I said yes.

On the way to Potya’s house, where the ceremony was taking place, Percy bought some marigold garlands to offer him. When we arrived, there were about 200 people, mostly men, waiting solemnly in the front garden. Potya’s close female relations were in the house bathing, oiling and dressing his body. I could hear the wailing of their sorrow as we stood waiting for them to finish. A few women were outside—some weeping, some saying mantra, some praying. The men were eerily quiet.

They say you are gone yet you are lying peacefully. Bathed, perfumed, clothed, you lay sleeping—quiet now from the sorrow of your body. Garlanded, wrapped in white, your wailing daughters weep the tears of loss. I hear their anguish and yours too…. All may be forgiven with Nityananda’s blessing. From my notes.

After about 15 minutes some men went inside and came out carrying Potya’s body. There was a palanquin covered in straw and a long muslin cloth, on which they gently laid him down. Everyone lined up to say goodbye to him by touching him or speaking some final words.

There was no smell of death, only the freshness of the bath and the scented oil they had rubbed into him. He looked as though he was in a deep sleep and at any moment would awaken to the sounds of his loved one’s grief.

After the farewells more muslin cloth was pulled over to cover him while various dignitaries spoke. They then laid white shawls across him. One of the curious cultural contrasts is that white, not black, represents death. Widows wear white, not young brides embarking on a new life. Next we placed our garlands on him. As I offered my garland I was overcome by emotion as I remembered the tender moments between my guru and Potya when they met for the first time after many years. I said goodbye and wished him a peaceful journey.

Potya’s body was now hidden underneath a colourful mound of green leaves, marigolds, chrysanthemums, jasmine and roses. His sons and male relatives carefully picked him up to carry him to the cremation ground, an isolated spot near the river Tansa which winds through the valley. At a certain point as they walked toward the burial site, the women stopped walking and we stood watching as the men continued on their way. For some reason women do not attend the actual cremation.

This farewell was in sharp contrast to a funeral I attended shortly after I returned to Australia. The funeral parlor was tastefully sterile, impersonal and almost cold. Many of the family, slightly aloof held back from expressing their grief openly. I had made a garland of flowers to offer the deceased. The family looked at me nonplussed when I asked if I could lay it across the coffin. I was remembering the unselfconscious expression of grief and love by Potya’s howling daughters and relatives, who let their loss break through the walls of their hearts to moan and complain to God. The expression of sorrow could not be stilled. Death could not dam heartbreak, but here the unspoken choked the atmosphere. The intimacy of this ceremony paled in comparison to Potya’s.

Sudden death has perhaps the most heartache. I have been shaken to the core of my being when I was awoken in the middle of the night by police with the news that my brother had just been killed in a car accident. But worse than that, was that I then had to break the news to my mother.

In 1981 the SYDA Foundation President, Ron Friedland suddenly died. Everyone was shocked, especially Baba Muktananda, who was the spiritual head and Guru. At the time I was working on the Foundation magazine. I wanted to write an obituary and knew that I had to ask Baba if it was appropriate to do so. It was early in the morning when I found Baba sitting on a little perch in the courtyard of his ashram in India. I tentatively walked up to him and said, “Baba, may I write something about Ron?”

He looked at me stunned, and then burst into tears and sobbed, “No one will ever know how much I loved that man.”

I stood there feeling the sorrow of Baba’s loss, astonished that he permitted his grief to flow and that he allowed me to see his humanity. My empathy flowed toward him. In that moment I felt like his mother. My heart went out to him and I silently offered him comforting words. After a minute or so, Baba’s tears stopped and he said, “Yes, write something.”

Grief and sorrow are natural at certain tragic moments in life. We need to find ways to pass it through the heart as we learn to accept and live with what has happened. The heart must be allowed to breathe whatever feelings arise in it from loss. Anger, fear and grief are natural companions to loss. However we also have to be careful not to cling to them or the pain. If we brood too long we risk the heart freezing in time, shutting down and turning to debilitating despair. In time sorrow will become compassion, acceptance and forgiveness. And, we become more empathic to the suffering of others.

Even though Hindus grieve the loss of the person, they are also reassured and comforted by the understanding that there is rebirth. This doesn’t necessarily still the ache of loss, but it does offer some comfort. The idea of rebirth is both horrifying and exhilarating to me. I am not certain how many of us, given a choice, would want to live again. Yet, life is precious, and the seeking and finding of God, love and meaning is a great joy. In my youth I chased death as a possible answer to existential angst. But now knowing that there is true meaning and purpose, something eternal into which all sorrow can be sacrificed, then, yes, I choose to do it all again. For love of people, for love of Self, and for love of God, I would, if given the opportunity, willingly embark on another life. Would you?

Love your own Self

Love your own Self

‘Meditate on your own Self, worship your own Self, honour your own Self, love your own Self. God dwells within you as you,’ said an advertisement in the local morning paper. This was an unusually positive message for an American paper with ties to the racially conflicted city of Detroit, Michigan.

It was September 1974, a beautiful time of year in the Midwest. I was living in Ann Arbor with Danny, a young man who was to become my husband, and working at the University of Michigan Counselling Services. A few days later he came home from class and told me he had received an invitation from his psychology professor to meet a holy man from India, a Guru named Baba Muktananda, the writer of the benevolent message.

Baba’s message uplifted and puzzled me. I was stirred by the mysterious words ‘God dwells within you, as you’. They resonated with truth. But, to believe that God lived within me, as me, seemed an impossible attainment.

The vision inherent in that message was powerful and compassionate, two qualities I had not yet encountered. Later, as I became familiar with my inner world, I began to understand its significance. I would not know the true meaning of Baba’s words until I understood how I made life difficult for myself.

A few days later, intrigued and curious about the mystic East, Danny and I pulled up outside a grand old fraternity house. It was freshly painted white weatherboard with black shutters; something that would look more comfortable nestled at Cape Cod than in this small university town. It appeared normal except for the large black sign ‘Siddha Yoga Dham’ on the rooftop. As I entered, the smell of incense filled my nostrils. There was a subtle electricity in the atmosphere; everything was extraordinarily bright. My attention was drawn to a photograph of a naked man lying on his side, smiling mysteriously. He seemed odd, eccentric. I wondered who he was and what he represented but I was not dismayed. Even though the ambience was unfamiliar, I was completely at ease.

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 a pull and my attention was drawn to my inner being. 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.

I felt a twinge of regret as I unsteadily stood to go. I wondered if I would see him again. I regretted that I was busy during the rest of the time he was visiting Ann Arbor. He was still answering questions, so without saying goodbye, we left. As we walked to the car I asked Danny how long we had been there. I was surprised to learn it was only half an hour. I felt like I had slept for eight hours, yet it was different. I was transported to a place deep within me, connected to the whole world, truly in touch with myself for the first time. As we drove away I said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but that man has something.’

(to be continued)