In the early years of Ananda Village, our lives were a lot more isolated and simple.
For many years, we didn’t even have electricity, which precluded watching TV or listening to the radio. And, of course, there was no Internet. Thus, many aspects of the popular culture weren’t able to penetrate into that forest ashram.
At the time, I would occasionally leave the community to give public lectures. On one of those trips, someone took me to see the movie Yentl, starring Barbara Streisand. Of course, she’s immensely talented, and the movie was lots of fun. But because I was coming from such a remote environment, I was able to stand somewhat apart from the movie and watch the effect her singing had on me.
I could feel how passionately she sang, and how much energy it generated in my heart. It was exciting, but the overall effect wasn’t satisfying. The music stirred my emotions, but then it felt like it sucked my feelings outside my body and dropped them on the sidewalk. Listening to the music, you ended up with an emotional longing, but it didn’t offer a fulfillment.
People imagine that if they stir up their emotional longings, they’ll only need a slight change in their circumstances for the longing to be filled.
Paramhansa Yogananda said that many marriages are based on that kind of music. You’re with someone, and it stirs up a longing – and here he is, and there you are. As Master put it, many marriages are “between a bow tie and a shade of lipstick.”
It’s that hope of future fulfillment that generates the popular music people spend their days listening to, with the expectation that fulfillment will follow. Which, of course, never happens. Even if the music doesn’t actually leave you feeling disharmonious, the promise of fulfillment on that outward level is simply false.
It’s maya – the intoxicating delusion that comes over us and makes us imagine that what we desire is just around the corner. It may not be in our hands at the moment, but we’re pretty sure it’s close, and if we just keep moving in the same direction we’ll catch up to it. It’s like a carrot dangling from a stick in front of a donkey’s head.
When something doesn’t work out for us, we imagine that if we keep doing it, it will work this time. We seldom pause to ask if our whole concept might be wrong.
Last night, we had a concert with Ramesha, who plays violin, and Bhagavati who plays flute. The concert was called “A Higher Octave of Joy,” and the music was nearly all composed by Swami Kriyananda.
I recently read some comments by Swami Kriyananda on music, from a book of letters to people who requested his advice. The book is In Divine Friendship.
He said: “Music not only influences consciousness, but it, in fact, creates consciousness.”
It’s a cautionary statement. He says, “If we aren’t careful about the music we play, and how we play it, the fundamental underpinnings of Ananda could be pulled out from under us, and the essence of Ananda could change.”
Music not only affects us personally; it can change the course of a culture, and a civilization.
I observed something in Ramesha and Bhagavati’s performance that hinted at the role that music plays in our lives. I noticed that their relationship to their instruments, even to their voices, was very impersonal.
For singers and public speakers, it can be a challenge to be impersonal with your instrument. If you’re a speaker, after all,, the instrument is your voice, which comes from your mouth, while everyone is looking at you. It can be hard to resist the delusion that you’re the source of the inspiration that people are receiving.
Most people wouldn’t question that you’re the one who’s creating the inspiration. But as devotees we’re concerned with a reality that exists beneath the surface. For those of us who are involved in the ministry, it’s necessary to be very impersonal, so that we can attune our consciousness to that that reality which can truly help people.
A friend sent me a news item from the San Jose Mercury News. It seems that a group of psychologists in England did a research study on “Irritable Clergy Syndrome.” It’s something that happens when the clergy are under great pressure to be nice to everyone all the time, even individuals who may be quite difficult to get along with.
I mentioned earlier how David and I would occasionally speak at other churches in the early days of Ananda. Mostly, they were churches that were somewhat similar to ours, like Unity or Religious Science. But I observed that the congregations didn’t give the ministers the same understanding that we received from our members. They seemed over-preoccupied with the minister’s personality, and they didn’t realize that although it’s the minister’s mouth and face that are talking, they’re trying to get beyond their egos and attune themselves to God so that He can speak through them.
The way to cure Irritable Clergy Syndrome – or Irritable Human Syndrome – is to learn to be somewhat detached from our experiences – to stand a bit apart and understand that our lives are, in a sense, an event for which we’re responsible. I give my heart to what I’m doing, and I act as if the outcome depended on me; but inwardly I know that the whole show is Divine Mother’s.
This is what I observed in Bhagavati and Ramesha. I noticed that even though the song was coming out of their mouths, there was an impersonal resonance of God in the music. It was possible because they sang and played from a reality that expressed deep feeling, without restless waves of personal emotion.
Swami Kriyananda spoke of this impersonal way of singing. For example, he urged people to “chant listeningly” and invite God to chant through them.
It’s important for people who are in public roles to give these ideas serious thought. The event that I call myself is an instrument that I’m playing. And where does the attachment to a personal identity come from that makes me take myself so seriously? When I find that when I’m becoming too focused on my ego-reality, an excellent attitude to take is: “Here’s Asha – so what?”
Swamiji remarked that he was never nervous when he needed to speak in public. When Yogananda asked him to start giving public talks, there was a brief period when he doubted his ability to make a difference in people’s lives. But he was able to head off any feelings of nervousness by asking himself, “What difference would it make if people thought me a fool? perhaps I am a fool. Then what possible difference would it make if people know it?”
Of course, our minds leap to the reasons it makes a tremendous difference! But we would do well to ask ourselves what difference it really makes. Yogananda said, “We are what we are before our conscience and God.” Other people’s opinions can neither enhance or diminish us.
After the concert, I had a conversation with Lauri, one of our singers. She said she enjoyed how Bhagavati would reach for notes that were obviously out of her range, with full confidence that she could hit them. There was a sense that she was offering herself to God to sing as His instrument, and it was up to Him to make sure the notes came out properly.
Gary Goldschneider was a concert pianist and a friend of Swamiji’s. Gary was known as a “marathon pianist.” He would play all the piano sonatas of Beethoven or Mozart straight through. He knew them by heart, and the concerts would last six to nine hours. His energy was astounding – he would play these difficult pieces with tremendous verve, which he was able to sustain to the end.
Gary once had a long discussion with Swamiji. It was fascinating to hear them talk, because of their high energy, and the sophisticated way they understood music.
At one point, Gary couldn’t think of the right words to express a point he wanted to make. So he leapt up from the couch and rushed over to the piano and hit the keyboard without any transition. It was as if the music was completing his thought. With full commitment, he played the musical passage that expressed his meaning, then he came back and sat down, and they continued their discussion.
Afterward, I said, “Gary, you didn’t really play that music, did you? You just opened a window.”
He said, “Yes, that’s how I try to do it.”
He felt that by pushing the keys he was able to open a window and let the music out. Of course, it took decades of practice to open that window.
It’s a perfect analogy for our lives. We practice for incarnations to learn to throw open the window of our true consciousness, which is the vibration of OM.
Why do we all look different? It’s because our consciousness is uniquely our own. But no matter how different we look, we must all make a tremendous effort to throw open our own unique window onto spirit. And it takes 150 percent of our effort. But as with Ramesha and Bhagavati, the effort isn’t only outward. Mainly it’s a gradual effort to put ourselves in attunement with God, so that He can sing through us.
When David and I began developing Ananda in the Bay Area, I noticed that a subtle energy began to form around us. We were putting out 450 percent of our energy, and everyone could feel that it was creating a lovely circle of spiritual magnetism.
Ananda Palo Alto was the second Ananda community, after Ananda Village. We didn’t know what form it would take, and it was fascinating to watch how it unfolded – how the same forces came together, in the same way that I had seen at Ananda Village – in terms of how people related to each other, and the look in people’s eyes, and the experiences they had with this spiritual path.
Swami commented that wherever he traveled, Ananda was the same. He said it’s because we listen to the same music. And because the music is attuned to Yogananda’s vibration, it helps us become attuned, especially if we sing it, but also if we only listen.
While I lived at Ananda Village, I noticed that people who moved there thinking that they were joining a community were usually disappointed. Strange to say, because after all it is a community – it’s one of the most beautiful and successful communities in the world. But if they came thinking that they were joining a community, they would find themselves feeling very lonely.
It’s difficult to imagine how you could be lonely, living in a community of people who consider themselves your friends and fellow disciples. Perhaps “lonely” is too strong a word. But I found that people would come to the Village, or to our Sangha in Palo Alto, and not quite feel they were part of what was going on.
I remember a woman who articulated it well. She was an outgoing, “do-things” woman – the kind of person who knows how to get along wherever she goes. She’d had a successful career in business, and she knew how to meet people and shake hands. And when she arrived at Ananda, she instinctively started, figuratively speaking, passing out business cards. Not literally, but she had that energy of being able to meet people and connect with them. And she said it was as if nothing ever stuck. The way she put it is that she found she couldn’t make contact with people.
She was drawn to what we were doing, even though it was frustrating her like crazy. Finally, she decided that instead of looking around at the people, she would look at the altar. That’s how she described it. And as soon as she started looking at the altar, everyone started relating to her. Because the glue of the spiritual life is not the ego. The glue of the spiritual life is that we stand together in attunement with a ray of divine consciousness. And once we’re aligned with that divine ray, what happens? Our vibrations simply merge.
It’s a merging that can’t happen if we’re focused on trying to make connections outwardly. But when we’re in tune with the ray of the Masters, it happens automatically. And then you may even find yourself becoming friends with people you wouldn’t have even expected to like.
If you think about it, what do we have in common at Ananda? Do we like to do the same things? Do we approach life the same way? Do we have the same background? No. But we feel like a spiritual family.
Our life is not a horizontal experience. It’s a vertical experience. You don’t find this level of spiritual friendship by trying to form personal bonds with dozens of people. You raise your energy to the heart and the spiritual eye, and you live from there. You take the energy of your heart, and you offer it to God. and then He creates friendships among you.
Swami’s music moves the heart, but it doesn’t pull it outward into restless emotions and drop it on the sidewalk. It moves the wonderful energy of the heart up to the spiritual eye, and then the longing of the heart no longer holds a false promise. It is fulfilled.
(From a talk at Sunday service, March 4, 2007.)