I was born in a conservative neighbourhood, in a conservative country, at a conservative time. There was no meaningful or recognizable connection with spirituality in life. Even as a child I remember thinking, is this all there is? There must be another way.
Then the sixties came. It was a time of rapid change and potential awakening. It was the first splash of water on the dormant seed. But it still needed the sun to sprout. What happened led to confusion because there was no way of knowing how to discriminate between the real and the fanciful. When the optimism ebbed away, nothing had really changed, but there was an awareness of awakened possibilities. And that’s when Sri Swami Satyananda stepped onto the world stage.
After school it seemed you had to commit to something – a university degree, a job, a career, a marriage – anything; make yourself useful; useful for what? There was nothing worth committing to. It was just a period of marking time. I was looking for something.
I found it after a long series of overlapping events, that looking back seem more than coincidence – when in 1983 I attended a program at the Mangrove Mountain ashram in Australia and saw and heard Sri Swamiji for the first time. It was a revelation. Suddenly here was someone speaking the language for all the unexpressed, unexplained thoughts and feelings that had been going on as long as I could remember. You knew without the need of any further authority that he was speaking the truth.
This recognition was not an intellectual idea. It took place inside. His words carried a quality from beyond the meaning of the words themselves and spoke directly from the heart of the matter to the heart of the individual.
It was the beginning of a connection that has never been based on any external relationship. What mysterious force made this connection possible for so many is not possible to say. But some experiences were common that explain the effect at least.
There was the recognition, at some stage, maybe after a period of checking it out, that, no matter how his presence seemed to make you aware of your own shortcomings and inadequacies, somehow you felt accepted exactly as you were, that you were okay, more than okay, substantial as an individual and alive with latent potential. And this helped you recognize that this was the starting point – where you are now – where the journey really begins. Didn’t he always say that a person might have a hundred negative qualities but if there was one good quality, he would help to bring it out? Didn’t it always feel like that? It was taken care of.
I remember that there was a common understanding that everyone felt that he was speaking to each one individually; so much so that sometimes when an idea might be dropped casually, people would think that he had given an instruction to them personally. It could even lead to misunderstanding. This was the effect of the universal touch.
I never received direct training from Sri Swamiji. In later years he had given us Swami Niranjan for that. But his presence was such a palpable force in life; in many ways it was the life. The difficulties, trials and hardships, internal and external, of spiritual life would be impossible without the real manifestation of the grace within it. He was the source and manifestation of that grace.
I remember once I was teaching in South America for some time – and that’s about as far away as you can physically get – and sometimes it seemed like his presence was so real that I could be listening to my own words thinking, “This is interesting, I wonder where this is leading to”, because it felt like I was listening to him and I was just passing it on, so to speak. Many teachers have spoken of this kind of experience.
Later, during the many programs in Rikhia in that last amazing phase of his life, of which we all have our memories, one little phenomenon I recall. In the earlier years of those programs, sometimes he would move about the ashram almost unseen. He could just pop up by your side while you were digging a hole or something, pass a comment and move on. At another time he could step into ‘the arena’ and every eye would turn towards him, and he knew it would happen too of course. He had such perfect integration with the prana that he controlled such things, and many other things beyond our knowledge and understanding. He said he didn’t want our karma, but there’s no doubt that karma was altered, adjusted, lightened. He stayed very quiet about it, but it happened, and we came to understand that. And for that our gratitude is the greatest.
In the earlier years of the programs in Rikhia I was fortunate enough to be part of the kirtan group. Not having seen him since the previous year, at first the group would be sitting there on stage, sometimes with Sri Swamiji downstage, feeling maybe a bit sheepish, a little self-conscious. Then, I remember one year particularly, it was like we all recognized at about the same moment – it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t mind, and we started behaving like rascals, laughing and joking and carrying on, rather like the kanyas do now in fact. So the effect is universal. We are all his children at heart.
Now his presence is universal. I do not miss him because for me the relationship has not changed that much. And if it has, it is, I believe, because he is not bound by the physical body/mind that even the greatest have to live with, and his presence is the more so because of that.
His grace is everywhere and always perfect.
It seems to appear in some places more than others.
But it is always the same, always there.
Grace is like an ocean; the ocean is full.
What you get depends on how you come to it.
Still we will not see his likes again in a long time. His teaching and message was ancient as all time and yet unique, because without compromise he broke down the barriers of religious idealism and revealed the essential practical simple truth at the heart of the matter. And you’ll be thinking like me too: I was alive at the same time that he was here on this earth! But if there’s one thing I miss, which can turn a bit sentimental, it’s his smile and the sound of his laughter. Who can forget?