Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

Guru Purnima in Rishikesh

by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)

This article is about what happened at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, on Guru Purnima, the 31st of July, 2015.

Mango Chutney:  A Gift from the Guru for Guru Purnima

My teacher Swami Veda left the body shortly before Guru Purnima.  There were so many things I wanted to do to honor him before he left.  I wanted to give him a practice of a beautiful silence.  I wanted to write down my experiences with his master, H.H. Swami Rama as I had been asked to do.  Above all, I wanted him to see me peaceful and happy, that after 45 years with him I had attained a wealth of peace.

After his departure I felt his presence though he had left the body.  Yet there were periods of doubt.

Some days before Guru Purnima, a woman I had often seen visiting our ashram approached me.  We had always been cordial, being spiritual children of the same teacher, but we never really spoke much to one another. For one thing, I did not know her language and she was perhaps shy using English as it was not her mother tongue. She said, “Joanne, Swami Veda came to me two nights ago and asked me to bring the mango chutney that I made for him to you.’” So she found me to tell me this and bring me this special gift, which to me is much more than something to eat, though it indeed bears the hand of a special cook.

Swamiji sometimes had people bring me food when he was in the body. I might be feeling a bit sad and there would be an unexpected knock at my door and it was warm food and smiles right from his kitchen table. Or it was lychee nuts or mangos and it made me feel so loved.

How He Fed Us!

Swamiji always loved to feed people. No one was too small or unimportant for him.

This was so from the very beginning. In 1970, when he learned that many of us had turned vegetarian and were living on ice cream and cookies, he invited all 90 of us into his kitchen and gave us a basic cooking class.  Ammaji, Sushi and Stomy were in London at the time.

He delighted in feeding us and everything from him felt like food from the Mother we always wanted. Even the stories, the shlokas, the disciplines he gave us---all felt like he was feeding us. His laughing with us was food. His loving eyes that knew you were food. His terse and perfectly worded notes, his concerned glances across a large crowd, his remembering you when no else seemed to know you---this was the Mother who fed us—and never too busy, never coldly or abruptly.

Even when his body was tired and failing. When he was in front of you he was fully there. He sometimes seemed to know each and every one of us and he didn’t just interact with us. He worked inside of us.

He planted the seeds for spiritual growth carefully in us like a wise, old gardener who knows that particular stretch of land, knows what watering and what sunlight the seed needed. And he gave it. Somehow he did all that. Most of us have no idea how well he knew each and every one of us and how much he cared and which seeds he placed where in us. If he could not do what was needed, it would somehow get done anyway. He knew how to get it done and it would be done. Those of you who knew him know exactly what I mean. Nothing and no one was important or insignificant. We were all his kids. He was like light on crystal and he magnified the best in us. This is how he fed us.  And we in turn nurture those around us with the growth we have made in our spiritual growth.

Summers Here, the Best Kept Secret

One person told me that he came —at this particular time—in the deep heat of summer for a 40-day silence and was here at Swamiji’s Mahasamadhi because I had told him about the extraordinary summers here. I had been telling people that monsoons here are the best kept secret. Yes, hot and humid but there is a quiet stirring that I cannot describe. And when the freshness of rain breaks the heat there is nothing like it. This year we had a heat wave but this young fellow was grateful to be here nonetheless. My great fondness for the North Indian monsoon may have to do with the anticipation of Guru Purnima, the silent depths leading up to it and then the full flowering of that day, which, looking back, in my mind, always seems to have been growing all year. I often think of Guru Purnima long before it occurs.

Guru Purnima 2014: Looking back

Last year there was an akhanda japa, an unbroken recitation, of the Shri Guru Gita in the days preceding the full moon of the Guru. Except for the familiar shlokas to the Guru that are in our early morning and evening prayers, I did not understand much of what the priests were saying but still did not want to leave the hall despite the heat.

2014 was before we had air conditioning in the Meditation Hall. Usually, the heat is extremely difficult for me. But I remember feeling the fullness of that practice. I would sit there several hours each day and the heat was totally beside the point. There was no feeling that I was doing a great tapas (austerity) either. I just felt drawn to be there.

Also the time upstairs with Swami Veda on Guru Purnima 2014 included a few minutes that were deeply touching. By nightfall of that day, I was already looking forward to the next Guru Purnima. I wanted to give him my absolute all.

It didn’t work out that way. I made my way through the year like a pilgrim with no shoes on over sharp stones---slowly, ponderously. It is not that life was tough. I had it remarkably easy.

It is a quiet life here and the chance to sit with Swami Veda most every morning and every evening was a gift. Yet I carried “my bundle” —all the things, thoughts, words, feelings that inhabit my days—giving up far less than I had planned.

Then Swami Veda left the body—before Guru Purnima. Like many of us, I felt his presence beyond his physical form one moment —and the next—I felt like fingers that lost the hand—yet still groping in the dark.

The Guru Is Not a Physical Form.

Guru Purnima 2015 reminded me —again and again but not the whole time—that the Guru is not a physical form.

Thinking about Swami Veda and Swami Rama, the master, and how much so many of us from all over the world felt their deep love—my priest, my rabbi, my imam, my babaji, my village chief, my mother, my father, my child, my friend.

He was never ours. He always was and always will be ours.

Ours? Who are we?

—All of life, seen and unseen.

In the early 1970’s when he first led us in a relaxation exercise, Dr. Arya said “This is the first of many practices called “the procession of the corpse.” He spoke of how a yogi walks into death consciously.

As he said of Yogis to the woman from another tradition whose guru left his body and she came to Swamiji asking how to keep her connection with her guru alive, “We don’t die. We are still present. We remain with you. But you do not have the eyes to see. The only way to keep the connection with your guru is to purify your antah karana, the subtle body, through mantra and meditation.”

He also led us along pathways that purified the subtle body, that cleared emotional patterns. He taught us that we could choose forgiveness over niggling grudges or war zone hatreds, that we could choose actions and thought patterns that changed old feelings, and, little by little, build who we wanted to be. As his master Swami Rama said, “You are the architect of your life and you create your own destiny.”

Swami Veda wanted us each to find our own way to water our words, our breath, our every gesture small or large, to drench our thoughts and emotions with the stillness within---to go there—to feel the pull of the mantra when old habits might otherwise yank us around. He was a quiet hero. He believed in us.

A friend of mine told me that when she told her 3-year-old that Swami Veda had died, her daughter said so sweetly, “No, Mommy. He isn’t dead.” She knew. As a 4-month-old infant, he had held her in his arms as they gazed at one another many an evening after the 5:45 – 6:45 p.m. silent meditation with Swami Veda. The link between them is still strong.

I believe that none of us will ever know how much has been given and continues to be given to each of us. I would one day like to live every moment with gratitude in this awareness.

Lost and Found and a Brief Exchange of Emails

Swami Ma Radha quickly flew in from the USA when she learned that Swami Veda had left the body. She returned to Minneapolis for Guru Purnima, concerned that the fire practice of that day be kept with the beloveds of that Center. Minneapolis is the home of The Meditation Center founded in the early 1970’s by Swami Veda with the blessings of his master Swami Rama. The vibration there remains strong. It was my home ground as far back as its incipience. There are many people there who have wanted for years to come to India to be with Swami Veda at SRSG but have been unable to make the journey. Understandably, Swami Ma Radha felt a strong calling to get back to Minneapolis for Guru Purnima with the community there and to ensure that the sacred fire practice went according to the way she was trained to perform that practice.

Soon after Guru Purnima, I wrote Swami Ma Radha, who is my next door neighbor when she is here at SRSG, asking how Guru Purnima was there. I added:

Tonight I really missed him and felt at a loss.

She wrote back:

Guru Purnima was really special….Yes, the fire was really powerful together--people continued to just sit in silence after it was finished....We are such fortunate people to have been guided (be guided) by SVB and SR.  How many people in the world now, in previous times and in the times to come will ever have such an opportunity?  How many even find a guru?  How many even know to look for a guru?


Guru Purnima Diary Entry, 11 a.m.

‘Sitting with others around the fire offerings of akhandamandalaa-kaaram. It occurs to me that the Guru is the body of the mantra. The physical body? I ask mentally.

—No, the Guru force field is the embodiment of sacred sound.

What does this mantra mean and how can I enter into this meaning?

An answer sweeps through me from within.

Stand aside. Let your little thoughts be flooded instead with the presence of the mantra. It is not a lexical meaning. It is an invitation to step into the fire and the river that is the ever-present Guru—beyond all my feelings, imaginations and experiences of what Guru is.

How the Day Unfolded

The day felt blanketed in peace. It began with an hour of silent meditation in the Guru presence with one another and with Swami Ritavan. Evening brought another hour of silent meditation together. I felt grateful that Swami Ritavan was here.

Morning pujas to the guru were offered both here and at Sadhana Mandir, the mother ashram up the road. At both ashrams, there was a fire offering with Akhanda-mandala- karam and The Shri Guru-gita-path, followed by arti, prasad and blessings.

Dr. Upadhyay came up to me by the sacred fire after the offerings were complete and most had left. He said quietly, with significance:

This is the time to inhale the juniper berry, the flowers, the woodfordia, red sandal chips, black sesame seeds, jatamansi root, and angelica in the samagree. [the elements in the special powder offered into Agni, the ritual fire]. The ghee is also very important. These are very healing micro-organic fumes. It is important that there is not too much wood [in the fire] either.

Then we returned to the Meditation Hall for the arti, prasad and blessings. Afterwards, a wonderful bhandara lunch was served at Sadhana Mandir and we all went there, some of us on foot, and some in cars. The rest of the afternoon was quiet.

Tejas Wrote to Swami Ma Radha

Tejaswini copied to me an email that she wrote to Swami Ma Radha:

Here Guru Purnima celebrations were really nice. The priests really put their heart and soul into the puja and conducted all ceremonies so beautifully. We finished with a purnahuti at the yagyashala of one mala of akhanda mandalaa kaaram and aarti in the Meditation Hall.  It was an emotional day.  Muniji from Parmarthniketan came at 1.30pm straight from flying from US and planted a rudraksha tree in the meditative garden.  Bhandara as usual in Sadhana Mandir.

The Head Priest, Gairola, was moved to speak about Swamiji in Hindi and Prakriti Bhasakar translated into English.  Swami Ritavan also said a few words.

Jagat on Guru-Tattwa

Jagat is a Sanskrit scholar and Krishna devotee who lives most of the time in Vrindavan. He has spent considerable time here at SRSG at the request of Swami Veda in translating some books for Swamiji. A respect and affection has grown between them. Jagat gave an evening talk on Guru-Tattwa. The quality of the lecture was vibrant, personal and inspired.

He asked “How can we ever thank a mother who has given us birth? As we remember our ishta-devata, how can we thank a Swami Veda Bharati?”

He posed the question “How do you go to a Guru?” He talked about how in the old days an aspirant would gather sticks from the jungle to offer to the Guru. If accepted, such students would live with the guru in his forest ashram. He told us that you can see the remnants of straw huts at the edge of Rajaji Park where students had perhaps lived with their master in the jungle in the traditional way, caring for herds and buffalo. He spoke of service to the Guru as the highest dharma and mentioned Chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita and how it talks about different kinds of sacrifice.

He said that the Guru has two forms, the outer and the inner. The outer form, the person, teaches us until the inner form, consciousness/caitanya, is developed enough. Then one can be a channel of Guru energy.

This was an inspiring lecture. May our everyday actions be filled with sincere sadhana, mindfulness and gratitude!  May we all come to be continually aware of the Guru within.

Swami Ritavan Is at SRSG

We are so fortunate to have Swami Ritavan with us, faithful, mindful and humble. Swami Veda named him in his will to succeed him as the Ashram Pramukh, the spiritual head of SRSG. He arrived little more than 2 days before Swami Veda left the body and Swami Ritavan was there at his side.

Swami Ritavan sometimes has an elfin quality, a kind and whimsical smile with no hesitation in that open field. This is not the person I knew 44 years ago. He gave a talk last night that was unmistakably filled with the Guru Shakti. Afterward, several of us were brimming with joy as we looked at each other and commented on this.

Special Concert at Sadhana Mandir

Nearly every Guru Purnima, Mr. L.N. Tiwari, the sublime vocalist, and Mr. Krishna Mohan Pandey, tabla player extraordinaire, offer a concert on Guru Purnima at HIHT. The last two years, Mr. Pandey’s nephew also comes. He is a vocalist protégé of Shri Tiwariji and even at his young age, already quite accomplished. I often go there on the evening of Guru Purnima, despite the possibility of elephant incursions along the jungle road. Sometimes I stay back at SRSG on Guru Purnima evening. On the night after Guru Purnima, Tiwariji, Pandeyji and now also the younger Pandey usually come to Sadhana Mandir to enchant us with the Guru shakti in an outstanding concert.  This year, as usual, they were in full force at Sadhana Mandir the night after Guru Purnima.

They are from Kanpur, India, and are devotees of Swami Rama, who year after year, called them to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, to the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy to sing bhajans and kirtans to his flock and to teach us Indian music. They are the crème de la crème of Indian devotional music. Every year when I see them the jubilation I feel at seeing them is so great, it is as if they are my next of kin. Here are some of my notes from that splendid evening of 1st August, 2015.

Together they open the sky. They pluck the moon from the sky and float it on Ma Ganga.

The room is electric with Swami Rama. I say inwardly “Lord! Illuminate this wooden heart. You opened my heart, Lord, but it is shut again.”

Tiwariji and Pandeyji bring us back home to the Guru’s lap.

They all but melt us one moment and the next moment uplift us to jubilation.

I have no idea what words he is singing but I cannot stop the flood of tears pouring out of me!

Tiwariji is reminiscing about Swami Rama. He speaks in Hindi and someone nearby softly translates for me that Tiwariji has said “listening to Swami Rama sing for so many years, it did not feel like he was listening to Swami Rama. It felt like he was listening to God Himself.”

I hear the names of Kabir and Guru Nanak, Krishna and Shiva, then Ganapati.

I hear old kirtans we used to sing with Swami Rama night after night in Honesdale, and in earlier years, day after day in India and Minnesota. Hari bol! Hari bol!

Then, Shriman Narayana Narayana Narayana has broken through my plexiglass shield, past the wooden heart and said “You! (Heart, my Heart!) I want you!”

“Gurudev….” Tiwariji says tenderly and begins to sing again.  “Gaayiye Ganapati jaga bandhana!” This is an old kirtan Swami Rama used to carve into our hearts when he sang it.

Song after song, Pandeyji is right there with him on the tabla, anticipating his every move, renewing those grooves and moving in ever larger and larger circles, calling to him on the tabla. They are like celestial bodies, like stars come alive, playing with one another, dancing across the sky and then taking us like small children and dropping us into the Guru’s lap.

Mr. Pandey is always surprising on the tabla and always the very dear, old, familiar friend! He is smiling at me with such love and depth of understanding. Mr. Tiwari as well. I knew these 2 men when I was just a bud, a button, and they are deeply embedded in my soul.

We are together in the Guru. Swami Rama is in the room. Not only is Mr. Tiwari calling and moving so like Swami Rama. One feels that Swami Rama is present in him and in Mr. Pandey and in us.

I will not name who was there though it is tempting, but I would not want to forget anyone. I see one person who can almost never resist singing along with the caller - response kirtans. He is sitting utterly still and silent in surrender with a strong, towering posture the entire concert, if you can call it that. This is not a concert. This is a call to wake up and a call to God and Guru. Hari om tat sat!

Pictures by Jay Prakash Bahuguna

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