If there is a show in the form of beautiful ideas,
lovely pearls make their appearance in the form of poetic effusions. If those pearls are pierced with skill and strung together
on the beautiful thread of Sri Rama's exploits
and if noble souls wear them in their innocent hearts,
grace in the form of excessive fondness is the result.
Since 1994, the gates of the Akhara have opened each successive year to all who would wend their way, like pilgrims of old, to be once more in the physical presence of Sri Swamiji and receive his darshan. How can a disciple describe what this opportunity means? Language cannot express the depth of feeling, whose true expression lies not in an effusion of words, but in the silent mystery of the heart.
Those of us travelling east from Europe leave countries in the depth of winter, where the skies are grey, the wind bitter, the air damp, and the light dim. We arrive at the Akhara to a profusion of colour, of flowers of all shades and hues, and, in a brilliant Indian light, we join with others from all over the world, to spend the short time available, in the presence of a man who has changed the course of our lives, and who, each time we visit, gives us more guidance and wisdom.
For me, Sri Swamiji's guidance is not always in what he says, but in what lies just beneath what he says, like the flesh of a fruit when you peel off the skin. What lies under the surface tastes differently to each according to need. Darshan with Sri Swamiji is, for me, like a Byzantine mosaic. Each moment has its place in a whole that glows with brilliance, mystery and beauty. The following are just fragments, not always of his actual words, but of my impressions, captured for a moment in time and savoured later again and again. Now they rise once more to the surface, as I ponder last year's Sita Kalyanam, and allow these memories to dance again in my heart.
He sits, clasping his hands so gently as though he were touching the light itself. His expression is of a child, full of wonder and innocence. His head tilted to the curve of his shoulder, and his smile radiating delight to us all. Purity sits before us; purity and sweetness; and for a brief moment we have a glimpse of who he really is.
It doesn't matter that you're not top dog. Fame, name or what you achieve in life belong to the world, and are not important in spiritual life. Success in spiritual life is gained through the daily occurrences of life; in living each moment to uplift another and in forgetting yourself. You should not be concerned with your own desires and achievements, but in attending to the needs of others; only then will you find happiness.
Success of the world is equated with the ego and is illusory. Only the spirit is real. You can achieve all the fame in the world and still be unhappy. Contentment comes only when you live for others. This doesn't mean you don't strive to be happy. Of course, you do; life is meant to be enjoyed. But real enjoyment of life only comes when you give to another. This happiness cannot be understood through the intellect, but only through daily practice and experience.
We've heard him say this again and again. But do we really understand? Every now and then in our lives a certain incident occurs, and for a moment time pauses, and we sigh, Ah! Yes, that's it. That's what he meant, and then life moves on and we forget.
The guru is just a channel or interpreter for the divine source. Progress is up to the disciple. If the disciple is open to the guru, and is able to perceive the divine within, then the guru is able to bring out the divine in the disciple. It is a very subtle and gradual transformation. Spiritual life is not to be rushed. Never be in a hurry. Spiritual life does not belong to one life. Growth is ongoing through countless lives. We've all been together many, many times as minerals, insects, animals, husbands, wives, lovers, enemies and friends. Why be in a hurry? Life is to be savoured and enjoyed in all its infinite variety and colour. If you have expectations you will be disappointed and criticize yourself and others. Expectations drag you down. Trust in the guru; open your eyes to the divine in the guru, and then you will see the divine in others and in yourself.
Attachment one should have, but not selfish attachment. Sri Swamiji is attached to his villagers, but only for their welfare and needs. This attachment doesn't bring suffering but joy. Can such an attachment be wrong or incorrect? Take care of others' needs and your needs will be taken care of; take care of others' prosperity, and your prosperity will be taken care of; take care of others' moksha and your moksha will be taken care of. Serve the poor; feed the hungry; care for the sick; go from door to door to see what their problems are. This is the only path to peace. These are the commands of Christ and of all spiritual masters: Love your neighbour as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There is nothing else you need to know. The secret lies simply in implementation.
Ataban the fourth wise man sought Christ all his life, but was always waylaid by someone needing his care and attention. As he lay dying, he saw the risen Christ, and said to him, Lord, it's you. You're alive. Oh Master, I have long sought you. Forgive me. Once I had precious gifts to give, now I have nothing. Christ said to him, Ataban, you've already given your gifts to me. I don't understand, my Lord, Ataban replied. Christ then said, When I was hungry you gave me to eat; when I was thirsty you gave me to drink; when I was naked you clothed me; when I was homeless, you took me in. Ataban said, Oh, not so, my saviour. I never saw you hungry nor thirsty; I never clothed you; I never brought you into my home; I've never seen you until now. Christ replied, Whenever you did these things for the least of my brothers, you did them for me.
God only wants one thing: that we love him. God is always with us guiding, helping and inspiring us but we don't hear him because of our continual judging and criticizing of one another. All he wants is for us to love him, but we love his creation more. See the divine in your guru. Love the one who personifies the divine for you. Step off the treadmill that turns on and on in ever widening circles of personal desires and attachments. Turn your whole heart and mind to God.
I bow to the lotus feet of my guru, who is an ocean of mercy and is no other than Sri Hari himself in human form, and whose words are sunbeams as it were for dispersing the mass of darkness in the form of gross ignorance.
God is out and out sweet, he says. The heart has no brain. Love can make mountains move. It is a very powerful thing. Therefore rely on your bhakti; on your emotions; not on your brain. What is your relationship with God? You need to discover your relationship with God. Find a way to be receptive to God's voice through the words of the guru. Make an effort; find the way.
The life is spent without remembering God.
What is the use of having a well without water;
A bird without feathers? No use.
Which Rama do you worship?
There is Rama the indweller of the heart;
Rama the creator of the cosmos, sun, moon, stars;
Rama the transcendental.
The surest, the easiest, the safest is Rama the indweller of the heart.
You have wasted your life without remembering God.
Without remembering God's name you cannot get peace.
God is immanent as well as transcendental.
It is foolish to say, not to worship God with a form.
I call Him Rama the indweller of the heart.
Paramahamsaji, Ram Naam Aradhana
We try and make ourselves happy. But it is when you make others happy that happiness then chases you. Everything in life is moving, evolving. One should dance through life. Dance has no language; dance opens the heart. Surround your life with dance and music. Learn to play with life.
To watch Sri Swamiji is to learn all that we need to learn. Hospitality is the example before us; he is always on the alert to see that everyone's needs are taken care of. Not for one moment does he lose himself. His eyes are not just on those in front on the stage, but on the sannyasins looking after the visitors as they enter. Have they been shown to the correct seat; are they comfortable? If he thinks this task has been neglected, he quickly corrects it, and then moves on in his discourse. Such a quick reproof few notice it's been made. His concentration is so one-pointed. Nothing misses his attention. The guest must always feel welcome and be treated with courtesy and care; the guest is a representative of divinity.
He so often gives us gifts. Of course it is not the gift that is important here, but the blessing it represents that is being transferred. Life has subtle changes after one receives a gift.
All the real teachings come to life as he plays before us. He plays, not to use people, but to move with the energies of life as they shift and change in their tone and in their timbre. He plays with these energies, simply, so others can be transformed.
Again he pauses and shifts gear, and is a child once more. One sees his vulnerability, like an exquisite piece of porcelain one can hold to the light and see through. But the courage, the risk of being so open. Porcelain can so easily slip from our hands. How often it is smashed to pieces. How to remain open; how to remain vulnerable; how to live the price?
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
W. B. Yeats
It is a mark of greatness in the disciple if he or she is able to recognize the greatness and glory of the guru. For me, three of Sri Swamiji's close disciples show this recognition, through the example of their behaviour. They are aware of their place in the mosaic enfolding before us.
Last year, during the Ram Naam Aradhana, and this time also in the Sita Kalyanam festivities, I remember Sri Swamiji said, that if there is ever a clash between being a guru or a sannyasin, he would choose that of the sannyasin. His chief disciple Swami Niranjan never uses the seat assigned to him beside his guru, but sits unobtrusively on the steps nearby. This quiet act of Swami Niranjan's speaks far more effectively than any discourse on the guru-disciple relationship. Through his demeanour we see Swami Niranjan a guru in his own right placing his role as a sannyasin first, before us all, with a quiet but piercing clarity.
There is a grace in the way Swami Niranjan greets and introduces the speakers that shows in his deft movements to ensure no awkward moments arise during the program. He is alert, always ready to take care of a guest of Sri Swamiji. Before us is the example of one who is able to balance all the varied occurrences that demand the attention of a master of ceremonies, from the needs of the eminent spiritual leaders to those of the akhara workers. He moves through the events like a top spinning on a wire; nothing must fall down, or be out of place. He maintains the harmony; he keeps it all in perfect balance.
Swami Satsangi appears after supervising all that needs to be done behind the scenes. She places herself in the background and this enables Sri Swamiji, Swami Niranjan and the guests to have more focus. She completes the triangle that moves as a unit, enabling us all to enjoy the festivities to the fullest. She too understands and plays her role, as she moves in and out of the proceedings. And always so radiant, not just because of her striking appearance, but because of an inner grace which shines through her inherent modesty. Swami Satsangi a woman not only of today but of tomorrow combines the lifestyle of a sannyasin with the grace of the East and the flair of the West.
Choti Swamiji Swami Atmananda one of Sri Swamiji's first disciples is always there. Her hallmark is steadiness; an anchor one can depend on. A source of strength and inspiration for all of us who have been disciples for a long time. Choti Swamiji is proof that the years of training and struggling with all the tests and trials work. No matter what the apparent contradictions or seemingly difficult circumstances, she still continues with the same faith and enthusiasm, one-pointed and effervescent.
Two events occurred, which, for me, were particular fragments which completed the mosaic. One was the cosmic mass which was co-celebrated by Sri Swamiji and the Rev. Antoinette Schoenmaker from the Independent Church of Australia. Sri Swamiji was dressed in long black robes and looked much like a Greek Orthodox priest. The celebration was a very joyful one with much laughter and humour, and filled with much interactive participation from the congregation. It was particularly poignant for me, because Antoinette is the daughter of the Rev. Mario Schoenmaker, who passed away at the beginning of the year, and who was originally chosen as the celebrant. It was inspiring to see a woman in this role of priest alongside Sri Swamiji, who has always advocated the coming leadership of women. Sri Swamiji and Antoinette were like children playing the game of life, not wanting to outstrip the other, moving in and out of the ceremony with graceful ease and refinement.
The other event was the marriage ceremony between an Indian man and an Irish woman, which symbolized the marriage of Sita and Rama, as well as being an actual marriage ceremony. As well as this particular marriage, six hundred Indian girls from the nearby villages, who were also married recently, were given their 'good luck kits', personally by Sri Swamiji himself.
When you leave everything to God, Sri Swamiji says, you will have joy and satisfaction. The sum and substance is that through the grace of God you were born; through the grace of God you live; through the grace of God you started on the spiritual life; and though the grace of God things happened in your life, good and bad both, as by the grace of God, not only good things happen.
Sri Swamiji talks about God like he is speaking of an intimate friend: The relationship of God to devotee is not one-sided; God also responds to the relationship. God is truth, auspiciousness and beauty, he says. O God, accept my relationship with you. I do not want a God who frees me from the cycle of birth and death; I want a God who can change my nature, so that I may serve others.
Even as I recalled the words of my erstwhile preceptor my mind conceived a fondness for Rama's feet and I went about singing the praises of Sri Rama (the Lord of the Raghu's) with a love that gathered new strength every moment. On a peak of Mount Meru, in the shade of a banyan tree, sat the sage Lomasa. I bowed at his feet, and addressed him in the humblest strain. When the gracious sage heard my meek and gentle address, O king of the birds, he politely enquired: For what purpose have you come, O Brahmana? Thereupon I replied, O fountain of mercy, you are omniscient and sagacious. Tell me, blessed one, how to worship the embodied Supreme Spirit.
To leave the Akhara, for me, is as profound as being there. I leave always with the certitude that I have experienced something of the divine plan in action. That at this remote place in the world the spiritual truths are actually lived, and that what I originally believed and had faith in as a child, and all my life have yearned for, actually exists here as a reality. Life is lived here as it should be and at a vibration that I have not found anywhere else in the world. Here is my source, my centre. Through this time of reconnection, the spirit is strengthened. I leave and move towards the periphery, but strengthened by memories that drift in and out of my consciousness as I resume my daily life.
Incomparable as He is, He has no compeer. Sri Rama alone is Sri Rama's peer so declare the Vedas even as the sun really suffers dimunition by being likened to a myriad glow worms. So do the great sages sing the praise of Sri Hari each according to the flight of his own wits and the Lord lovingly hears them and feels delighted (however inadequate the praise may be); for He respects the sentiment of His devotees and is extremely kind. Sri Rama is an ocean of countless virtues: can anyone sound His depth? I have only told you the little I have myself heard from the saints. The Lord is won only by sincere devotion and is a fountain of joy and an abode of compassion. Therefore, giving up worldly attachment, vanity and pride, one should ever adore Sita's spouse.