A friend told me recently about something remarkable that Edgar Casey, the “sleeping prophet,” said, sometime in the 1940s or 1950s.
Cayce was a very, very spiritual man who gave psychic readings that were recorded, and in one of the readings he said that a town called Grass Valley in California would be a center of resurrection after a period of very hard times for this country. And of course, we can only wait to see what he meant.
I came to Ananda purely and simply because Swami Kriyananda personified everything that I was trying to become, and it simply made sense to me to be close to where he was.
I stayed as close to him as I could until he passed away. And I still try to stay close to him, even though he’s no longer in a physical body.
Not long after I arrived at Ananda Village, the community went through a crisis. Ananda has undergone many crises over the years, and one of the earliest came in the winter of 1971, shortly after I arrived.
Someone had given Swamiji some money, and he decided to use it to put up a building in a certain location. Lots of people in the community didn’t want the building in that place, and they didn’t want him to be telling them what to do.
Swamiji had a very clear vision of what Yogananda wanted Ananda to be. But, as he remarked, you need people to have a community, because you can have the most wonderful vision, but you still need people to make it real. So people would come, and they would have various degrees of understanding of what he was trying to accomplish. Some of them had the ability to learn what Ananda was about, but others were just passing through and never really understood Master’s vision.
So there was a big brouhaha, and at one point we all gathered in the dimly lighted temple, in the cold midwinter. And I remember how Swamiji sat with his arms crossed and said to us, “I seldom speak strongly about what this community should do, but when I do speak, I expect to be listened to.” He added, “And if you don’t want to do it the way I want to when I put my thoughts out like this, I’ll just leave.”
I had barely arrived, and now it suddenly looked as if he was going to be leaving. And I just got into a panic, which was my usual mode of operation anyway in those days. And then the rest of the group began talking as if he hadn’t even spoken – they were talking about all the reasons they didn’t want the building there, and why nobody should dictate to anybody, and so on and so forth. And finally I perked up and said, very fast and in an extremely high-pitched voice, “Didn’t you hear what he said? He’s going to leave!”
I was new, and I didn’t understand what was actually going on in the room. I didn’t know that the people who were closest to Swami and most supportive of him would often just sit calmly and wait to see how he would play it out. Instead of diving into the discussion, they would wait to see how the energy was going, because they trusted his wisdom. But my panicked response at least triggered more of them to speak up for his side.
In the end, about twenty-five people walked out of the room and left the community. And, as I would realize later, it was a necessary step. They weren’t bad people. They just had other ideas. But Ananda had a certain divine destiny, and they had another destiny, and our paths crossed for a time, but it wasn’t in the cards for us to stay together.
Later, I said to Swamiji, in anguished tones, “How could you do that?!” And he said, “Oh, Asha, I would never have said that if I didn’t know that I have enough people on my side.”
In the early 1980s, Ananda went through another internal crisis of sorts, when Swami Kriyananda became rather fed-up with our attitude, and he went off to Hawaii, saying that he wouldn’t return until we got our act together.
Every four of five years or so, for all the time Swami was with us, something would happen that would force us all to grow into a more mature understanding. Swamiji was masterful in his ability to awaken us to our potential, always at a speed that wouldn’t completely freak us out. But he would nudge us a little bit here and there, and in those moments you would really have to stop and think, “Wow, what’s more important to me? Is it my concept of architecture and where the buildings should be? Or am I really here to learn about an entirely new reality?”
Our Bible reading today tells us, “No man can see God.” And what it’s telling us is that it isn’t enough to take our own small self-definitions as our true reality, because we must look deep within before we can know what we truly are, and what is real. And this is one of the more eye-opening truths of the scriptures.
We come onto the path because some part of us knows, at a very deep level, that we are miserable. And no matter how cheerfully everything seems to be going on the outside, there’s a desperate longing in our hearts to find something that won’t just slip through our fingers, and we are painfully aware that we don’t have it.
And then we become engaged in the path, and we’re suddenly asked to expand beyond what we already know. And, with the fiercest stupidity, we cling to what we know, because we can very easily forget the whole point, which is that it’s inadequate.
Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, would often speak very pithily about philosophical things. He said, “If you defend your delusions, the reward is that you get to keep them!”
So Ananda was moving through one of its cycles, where we were all growing together and moving in a certain direction. And then around 1980, when Swamiji announced that he was going to Hawaii and that we needed to get our act together, he told us that we really did not understand how to draw spiritual inspiration.
He was the only direct disciple of Master who was living among us, what to speak of having vastly more experience on the path than any of us. So we looked to him for guidance about what the spiritual path was really all about. And in a talk that he gave four or five years after the crisis in the early 1980s, he said, “I began to feel that you were treating me as if it was your right to get inspiration from me, and that it was my job to give it to you, and that if I so much as took a day off, I was somehow letting you down.”
He said, “And this is not a mature relationship.” He said that it wasn’t working for him, and that he didn’t think it was working for us. So he left. He went to Hawaii, and Rammurti went with him.
He went away for a time and basically left it to us to figure it out. And in that old recording that he made, four or five years after those events, he talked about how we had, in fact, risen to the occasion, and how we had awakened from our stuporous dependence on him to do it all.
He explained that the highest relationship with the Divine is reciprocal, and that the highest truths are reflected in the day-to-day events of our lives.
This is one of the hardest things for us to understand on the spiritual path: that this life is an exercise that is meant to prepare us for something higher, It’s a rehearsal for the grand performance, you might say, where we’re practicing how to be loving and kind and friendly and giving and selfless and dynamic and wonderful, so that we can refine those qualities until we can have that kind of relationship with the Divine, which is our true Self. And the only reason we don’t have it already is because we’re so busy protecting our smallness.
We’re given an unlimited number of chances to learn, and every one of our experiences is meant to teach us what it’s like to relate to a higher reality. God gives us unbounded freedom to perform our own little experiments in this world, and learn from the results.
How well do our relationships work when we’re only thinking about what the other person can give us? How well does it work when we’re only ever thinking about what we’re entitled to? And how much better does it work when there’s a perfect flow of expansive energy in service and kindness and love and compassion and devotion?
My friend Durga had ovarian cancer about fifteen years ago, and in the course of her treatment she had an operation. She spent several weeks recuperating at somebody else’s home so that they could take care of her. And when I went up to the Village to help, I found that the woman who was hosting Durga was being extremely protective of her privacy. She had put the community on notice that Durga needed to rest, and that no one should come over and bother her.
Her house had a front and back door, and all day long the doors were opening and closing, and before the woman could stop them, people were slipping into Durga’s room.
The woman was feeling very frustrated and annoyed, and just as she was on the point of confronting them and giving them what for, I said to her, “Durga makes everyone feel that they are a special friend of hers, and every single one of those people is thinking, ‘Oh, it doesn’t apply to me – she would really want to see me.’” I said, “And I count myself among them, because, you know what? It’s true.”
I’m sure that Durga would be mortified if she heard me say this. But it was a beautiful example. She made us all feel that we were her close friends.
Swamiji was everyone’s friend. I remember a situation that came up in 2001, when Ananda was embroiled in the litigation with Self-realization Fellowship, which is an amazing story in itself. (You can read about in an entertaining book by our attorney, Jon Parsons, A Fight for Religious Freedom.)
At the time, it occurred to some of us that we really ought to expose what SRF was doing to its own members. And in order to make our point as powerfully as possible, we decided that we would go down to the annual SRF convocation in Los Angeles, where 5000 people would be gathering from all over the world, and we would march and sing on the sidewalk with signs and pass out literature.
Many people at Ananda felt that this was something that really was not done in the best spiritual circles. But for those of us who were planning the big protest, it felt like the right thing to do. And then there was what I can only describe as a global outrage at the mere idea that we would be doing this. And Ananda, being what it is, even the folks who opposed it recognized that we would have to be doing it in the name of the whole community, whether they liked it or not, and they recognized our right to do it.
But there were lots of people who appealed to Swami Kriyananda to try to get him to stop us. And he had a wonderful way of taking a position of uncompromising neutrality. When he was getting these calls from all over – “Do you know what they’re thinking of doing?!!!” – he had a wonderful way of talking with them without making them feel that they were wrong. And of course he knew perfectly well what we were up to, because we were telling him. But when they would explain why we absolutely could not do this, Swami would say, “I understand why you feel that way.” And he really did. He always understood why people were feeling the way they felt, without either endorsing it or rejecting it. He just knew, “My friendship for you is unconditional. I know who you are, and I love you.”
Now, if you weigh his words in your own heart, isn’t that what everyone is longing for – that level of unconditional acceptance and love?
We want to be seen. We want to be understood. And when we can take down all of the inner barriers that are preventing us from clearly knowing what we really want, we find that what we want above all else is to be loved completely. And the extraordinary thing is that, as all of the scriptures and all of the masters tell us, we are already loved in that total, uncompromising and unconditional way.
How can we not know this? Jesus reveals the answer in the Beatitudes, where he says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Now, when we say “God,” we hardly know what we mean. What is God? And what is it that is preventing us from having that kind of purity in our hearts, so that we can know Him? Somehow, behind all of the questions, there’s a piece of us that already knows the answer.
Jesus tells us that if our hearts are perfectly pure, our vision will become pure. Swamiji said this many times, and he suggested that we take it into our meditations, and that we work to weed out from our hearts everything that isn’t vibrating with that essential purity.
My brother was an incredible tease when we were very small. I remember riding in the backseat of the car, and something happened that was probably his fault, but I couldn’t prove it, and my mother turned and spoke to me very sternly. And I remember that I didn’t like it – you know how it feels when someone hurts your feelings, and whether you’re two years old or a hundred, it feels the same. My mother hurt my feelings, and I remember how I disliked that awful feeling of absolute vulnerability.
There was nothing much I could do about it. There was no external remedy, because when you’re a child you don’t have any power to change your circumstances. The adults can pick you up and move you around, and you can’t do very much on your own.
I remember how I curled up on the floor in the back of the car with my ear to the hump that those old cars had, and how I listened to the tires humming on the road. And I remember knowing very clearly that I existed simultaneously on a level that was beyond the reach of any pain.
I’m not talking about psychological dissociation but something very different. I believe it was a carried-over memory from past lives. I knew that satchidananda – “ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss,” as Master defined it – was there, and I remember thinking that I just had to move farther and farther back from this world and I would eventually find it, which I did. I didn’t go into an ecstatic state, but I found that on that deep inner level the pain no longer existed.
Swamiji talks about going inward in meditation; about going back in and expanding beyond the place we usually call ourselves, and finding the place of which this outward world is just a dim expression, made of flickering lights and shadows.
How many times do the masters tell us about this inner experience? They speak of it constantly. In his poem, Samadhi, Master writes: “Vanished the veils of light and shade, lifted every vapor of sorrow.” In that state, this world goes away. It’s still there, but we realize that we exist on a level that is far beyond it. And all we’re doing here in this world is practicing to be able to deepen that experience.
Purity of heart is not finally about exerting enough willpower to be able to have the right attitude. Purity is about recognizing that none of this world has anything to do with us, and that on this level it will never be permanent but will always be changing, and that there’s a permanent place someplace else where we can live.
To return to that old recording with Swamiji, where he talked about how we should relate to him – it was a very open discussion. Swamiji would conduct these very free conversations, with lots of laughter, lots of jokes, and everybody feeling quite confident and comfortable to say whatever they needed to say. And he was just there to help us work things out.
Someone was saying that out of consideration for Swamiji they never wanted to speak to him because they didn’t want to be one of those people who were just taking energy from him. And she was presenting it as if, “Isn’t that a nice way to feel?” But it was interesting, because Swami addressed it from a very different perspective.
He talked about his relationship with Anandamoy Ma. Anandamoy Ma was the joy-permeated mother that Master talks about in Autobiography of a Yogi.
Swami was in India from 1958 to 1962, and Anandamoy Ma died in 1982. He got to spend a lot of time with her during the early years, and also later, and she pulled him very, very close. She said, “Thousands of souls have come before this body, and none has drawn from me as you have.”
Swami told us that he was able to behave with Anandamoy Ma with a freedom that he never was able to express with his own Guru, because he was just twenty-two when he came to Master and he was twenty-six when Master died. And he said that he was always in such awe of him that he could never be himself. But by the time he met Ma, eight or ten years later, he understood more, and they had a very close relationship.
Swamiji tells how one of the monks at Mount Washington, Brother Turiyananda, had asked him to bring him something that Ma had touched, so that he could have it as a spiritual relic, because there was no chance of him going to India to see her.
Swamiji said to Ma, “There’s a monk, Brother Turiyananda, and he would like something of yours. Perhaps if you have handkerchief or something like that.” She seemed very willing, and she asked one of her attendants to get something for her. But then it occurred to Swamiji that he hadn’t asked for anything for himself. So he said, very sweetly, “Perhaps you could make it two.” And he said that Ma immediately understood, and then a discussion ensued where she said, “Why didn’t you ask?” And he said, “Well, I didn’t want to trouble you.” And she looked at him and said, “How can you trouble me?” She said, “I’m your very own.”
And then Swami was saying to us, “When there is true love, you can ask for everything and there’s no presumption involved.” Because once there is true love, there is no separation. That’s what Ma was saying, “I would give you everything. You only need to ask.”
And what he began to realize, and what he was explaining to us, is that it’s the impurity of our hearts that makes us think that God doesn’t want to give to us, and that our friends don’t love us, and that our teacher is reluctant, and that we’ve displeased him. That’s the impurity. It’s not that we’ve actually done anything wrong. The only thing we’ve done wrong is that we don’t know how much we are loved.
And so we hesitate. We’re always hesitating “Oh, what if?” And I’m thinking of Durga, after her operation, and how she made everyone feel “Of course she would want to see me!” And when they streamed in the door she welcomed every single one of them. Now, that’s how we need to feel with God and Guru. Of course He wants to see me! Of course He wants to give me everything! Am I not His own?
We have each other to practice with. We don’t have Master or Swami or Anandamoy Ma in the body anymore, because they’re gone, but we have each other, and we have the power of God’s love.
In these turbulent times, people are asking, “What can I do?” And the answer is very simple. “Love.” And I don’t mean that we should love with sentimentality and emotionalism. I mean that we should attune ourselves to that love which lives in the Divine and that can see the divinity in all things.
Now, that is heroic love. That is the kind of purity we’re looking for, that never doubts our connection with God, and God’s connection with us. And through that love, we can know our unity with everyone.
This is the world that we were meant to bring to reality. It’s not about who is president or who’s in charge or whether the whole thing will blow up in a nuclear war. Because, as Swamiji said, if we all go out in one big blast, or if we dribble out one by one over the next century, in a hundred years we will all be gone, and when we’re back in the astral world it won’t make any difference at all, because you’ll still have your consciousness.
That is what matters. Live in the light, live in the divine love that dwells within you, and give it to all.
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on February 19, 2017.)