“This is where you’ll be staying here in the Pune.” With these words, our dear friends, Narayani and Shurjo, showed us into Swami Kriyananda’s lovely home in Ananda’s newest community – outside of Pune, India.
We were touched to be staying here, where we’d often visited Swamiji and enjoyed the blessing of his presence. Ever since he left his body in April 2013, everyone whose life he blessed has been dealing with Swamiji’s passing in his or her own way. Many people have felt him more present in their lives now than ever before, but still on some level there is a sense of loss.
Sitting in Swamiji’s living room where we’ve enjoyed many a tea with him pulls at the heart. Though his chair now contains only his picture, the room is still filled with his spiritual joy and vibrancy, and I can hear his hearty laugh and see the divine love flowing from his eyes.
So often throughout the years – whether in America, Italy, or India – Swamiji would invite a group of devotees to join him for tea, a meal, or a social gathering. As our time together drew to a close, Swamiji would often conclude the gathering with the expression, “Well, everybody…”, and we would know it was time to leave. Whether he wanted to get back to some writing project or to be alone with God, we knew he wanted the freedom to be in his own flow.
As a composer, a writer, or a divine friend, Swamiji had an acute sense of when it was the right moment for things to end. No musical phrase, or sentence, or human interaction was extended beyond that time.
Though he struggled with many health issues in the last years of his life, still his passing came somewhat unexpectedly for us. But I believe he knew when to draw things to a close, and from his heart lovingly said to us all, “Well, everybody…”. He took his leave, and his soul found freedom in the infinite light and joy of God.
May we all be one in that light someday.
In divine friendship,
Devi and I are currently traveling to Ananda centers and communities around the world. Last month we were in Italy helping lead a pilgrimage and now we are residing for a while in India. There are many interesting aspects to travel and, especially, to living in a foreign country. Among other things, your comfort zone gets poked, prodded, and bent out of shape. It is a great opportunity to overcome old habits.
Our reactions, whether positive or negative, produce sparks of energy and little bits of karma. When we repeatedly react the same way, it produces a habit. A habit, when strong enough, becomes a samskar, or tendency, that we carry with us from lifetime to lifetime. Samskars are like ancient roots descending into the dark soil of old behaviors. When the right circumstances come, these old weeds sprout anew and strangle fresh growth and change.
We asked a Western friend, who has lived happily in India for many years, what the secret was of adapting to a new culture. His response was succinct and powerful: “Never compare.” He told us that for the first few years he’d had the tendency to judge things in India according to his experiences in America and was on the verge of moving back to the West, but then saw the solution to his difficulty. Comparing conditions is very common, and leads people to imagine that they can solve their problems by moving from one environment to another, or by switching jobs, or by changing partners. The real danger is that this tendency keeps them looking for solutions outside themselves.
Gyanamata, Yogananda’s most advanced woman disciple, was once faced with a severe test. When she prayed to God, she felt it was not His will that she be spared that experience. Immediately she knew the prayer God would receive: “Change no circumstance of my life. Change me.”
Travel is broadening, and I’m not talking only about the amount of food we’ve eaten in the last month or two. A new culture forces us out of the ruts of normality and gives us a chance to review our habitual behaviors. A new environment also gives us ample motivation to break the chains of old likes and dislikes. When we overcome all reactive tendencies, we are free to soar in God.
Recently we were part of a pilgrimage with fifty other devotees who traveled to Italy to enjoy her history, art, and, especially, her inspiration. Everywhere we went there were also thousands of tourists enjoying the cultural richness. But as I observed the other groups, I became aware that somehow we were different from them.
The others moved hurriedly through the museums, the historical sites, and even the sacred places without seeming to make much of a connection with anything they saw. Our group, by contrast, tried to pause, find a place of inner silence, and feel the inspiration. We tried to be, as Swami Kriyananda suggested, “spiritual archaeologists,” digging deep to find the treasures hidden beneath the surface.
The “hurried tourist” mentality was epitomized for me a few years ago when we were with a small group of people in the Vatican Museum in Rome. The place was packed with people trying to push their way forward through the throng, and at a certain point, we heard a loud thud and saw a lot of commotion.
Our tour guide said, “Oh, it’s just one of those ‘See Europe in Seven Days’ tours. Their schedule is so packed that they barely have time to sleep or eat. One of them is always fainting.”
What is the point of visiting inspiring places in such a way? But more important to us: What is the point of living our lives in such a way?
Most of us are like tourists barely taking the time to appreciate what we find each day. Then life draws to a close, and we ask ourselves, “What have I really learned from my experiences?”
After our pilgrimage ended, I decided to continue living as a pilgrim, trying to appreciate the presence of God all around me.
You, too, can do this in your daily life: When you awaken in the morning, you can think, “I am emerging from God’s omnipresence. Let me remain in His joy.” As you go to meditate, think, “Now I am entering the inner temple of God communion. Let this time be sacred.” When you go to work, think, “Now I have the chance to see God in all and do divine service to help others.” And when withdrawing into sleep at night, think, “Thank you, Lord, for giving me this beautiful day to dwell in your Presence. I give all my experiences back to you and rest in your freedom.”
May your daily pilgrimage be filled with expanding wonder and joy.
We recently showed the movie Finding Happiness to a group of about 150 students of the Sadhana Centre for Management and Leadership Development in Pune, India. These idealistic youths loved the movie, clapping spontaneously several times during the showing. Afterward they kept us for nearly two hours, chatting and asking questions. They are planning to make a field trip to our community here.
But this isn’t a report about the evening. Rather it is about a practice begun by the wonderful founder of the school, Prof. Pillai. The students all begin their day with group meditation. Occasionally he gathers them together and asks one of them to step to the front. Then each student comes up, holds that person’s hand, looks him in the eye, and says three good things about him. As loving thought after loving thought is spoken the recipient often begins to weep. By the end everyone in the room has heard 450 positive statements. What a wonderful way to approach life!
We, too, can practice this in our school of life. Connect with the elements of your day, look them in the eye, and say three good things about them. It might be a person, your job, some routine task, or an aspect of your spiritual practice.
Appreciation is one of the very best ways to combat the downward-pulling tendencies that cause negative thoughts. Single out, especially, those parts of your life about which you chronically complain and find something positive to say. Those dark corners will vanish when the lights are switched on.
A friend told us about a time when he was working on a job with a partner who was a longtime meditator. They had no sooner finished their morning meditation and arrived at the worksite when our friend started to complain. His partner simply looked at him, smiled wryly, and said, “Let the whining begin.”
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna addresses his dear disciple, Arjuna, as “you who have overcome the carping spirit.” One of the best ways to overcome our own carping spirit is to replace complaints with positive thoughts.
Experiment, just for today, with this idea: When faced with a situation that would normally make you reactive, look it in the eye, and say three good things about it. See if it improves your day. If it works, make “three good things” a life strategy.
Recently I had a powerful experience of how God gives us “signs” to guide our lives. The incident took place as I was walking along a road near our home at Ananda Village. Not paying much attention to the sights around me, I was absorbed in thought about a friend who’s going through a difficult test.
I had been praying for him, but during the walk I was inwardly asking, “What is the best way to pray for him?” Immediately my eyes rested on a road sign that I’d seen hundreds of times as I walked or drove past. It simply says, “DIP”.
But in that moment the letters jumped out at me, and the thought filled my mind: “DIP” stands for Detached, Impersonal Prayer. Here was the answer I was seeking of how to help my friend.
Detachment in prayer is important, because we need to realize that though we can serve as channels, God is the Doer. Seen in this way, it’s better not to pray for a specific outcome, but rather just to ask for Divine Mother’s grace.
I remember some years ago when my mother was diagnosed with a serious illness, and I began praying for her. I had a great deal of attachment that she would get well and also anxiety that she might not. My prayers were not very calm or centered.
One night I had a dream that I was pedaling a bicycle rickshaw up a steep hill with my mother in the back. Near the top, my mother laughingly jumped out and said to me, “You don’t have to work so hard,” and ran up the rest of the way herself. My mother did recover, and her disease went into remission, though she passed away some years later.
Being impersonal in our prayers is also important. When we pray for others, if we come only from the place of our love for them, it’s limited. But if we try to feel God’s vaster, more impersonal love for them, we can experience a greater flow of energy that draws divine grace.
My prayers for my struggling friend have shifted to reflect the answer I received. Through his “signs and wonders,” God responds to the questions of our heart and illumines our steps on the spiritual path.