A Time to Give Back

Maria Teresa Valencia de Copete, Colombia

I met Sri Swamiji in 1971 when I was seventeen years old. After his short visit to Bogota, Colombia, in that year, I knew that my association with him was going to be a long-lasting one and that he was going to be a very important person in my life.

Over the years I have often wondered why I was so lucky to have had the opportunity to be in close contact with someone of his stature and wisdom; why I’ve been so fortunate to be given the opportunity to work for so many years helping him fulfil his mission; why Colombia was a part of his spiritual journey, a place so far away from Munger, so distant in kilometres and yet so close to his heart; and why now, after his Mahasamadhi, I feel closer to him than ever, and feel his energy permeating everything related to the work of spreading his teachings of yoga.

During the years that he traveled to the West, I had the opportunity of being with him seven times in Colombia, where he not only visited Bogota, but also Medellin, Cali, Neiva, El Ocaso and San Agustin. I was with him in the Dominican Republic twice, in Puerto Rico, in the United States, in Spain, in France, in Italy and in Greece.

Whenever I could, I went to India to visit him, to attend his satsangs, to live in his ashram and to receive his darshan. In 1973, I participated in the World Yoga Convention in Munger and had the opportunity to be a student in his last kriya yoga course. Every time I went to see him, he had started a new project. He never stopped creating new avenues to teach, to help his disciples, and to care for his neighbours. I witnessed the growth of the institution he had created out of nothing, first the old BSY next to the Shiva temple, then I remember walking with him overseeing the construction of Ganga Darshan and then visiting him during the early years of Rikhiapeeth, when there were no buildings at all. I never imagined then that such a marvelous project was going to flourish around him.

He was my guru, my friend when I needed one, my companion when I felt alone, my guide when I was lost and my support in times of distress. Through his teachings all my questions were answered and all my requests fulfilled. He was the one who encouraged me to start the journey to discover my inner self. Not only his verbal guidance was there, but his life and actions were also a vivid example of his teachings. He had a peculiar way of teaching and we had to be alert to catch the hints that he was giving us all the time. I consider myself very lucky because I had many opportunities: I was his translator in some of his programs; I was asked to cook for him, to wash his clothes, and also to run some occasional errands for him. In every interaction that I had with Sri Swamiji, he found a way to teach me something practical.

Once, in one of his visits to Bogota, while walking through the ashram, he found a new electric typewriter, and with the excuse of trying it out he wrote: “A lucky man is he who takes an opportunity when it arises.” Since then, I learned that one has to be aware of any opportunity and take advantage of it while you can. He was very strict; with him everything had to be on time. He would arrive at programs fifteen minutes early, to board a plane he would be there long before it was required. We had to be ready, we had to be alert, we had to think in advance, otherwise he would just leave us behind. Whenever there was an issue to be resolved, he would look at it from every angle, see all the possibilities, and have plan A, B and C. Life would have never caught him off-guard. His life was an example of that.

He loved world affairs, knew everything that was happening at the time. He was always up to date on world events. Sri Swamiji could talk on topics of war or peace, religion, science or social issues. He was a man of the world and at the same time a man from another world.

It is difficult to believe that such a man ever existed. His legacy will endure the ravages of time, his books will be there for generations to come and it is our duty as his disciples to see that the institutions he created continue to develop as per his wishes and commands. With opportunity comes obligation. All of us who had the opportunity to meet him, to be with him, to follow him, need now more than ever to work hard and make sure that his teachings are spread in their original form.

Now that he has entered Mahasamadhi and I realize that I will never again be able to ask him any questions, I remember the answer he gave me once when I asked him to give me instructions on how to proceed with the work of yoga in Colombia. Sri Swamiji said: “Don’t you receive my instructions mentally?” That made me think . . . and now I clearly understand the path I need to follow. I must be in tune with his energy, make myself available and ready to proceed with his vision. I must pray to God to give me the openness, the purity of heart, the clarity of mind and the physical health to be able to help carry the mission given to him to ‘spread yoga from shore to shore and from door to door’.

Now that he has transcended to another plane, a quote from the Bible comes to mind:

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.
—Ecclesiastes (3:1–2)