Thursday, 27 October 2011

Shivabalayogi: Contemplating Swamiji's Treasure

Devotees of this great Yogi will I hope have come across this massive book, available from Handloom Press (who do a great job of dispatching it as soon as the order comes in). If not, buy it immediately!

The title refers to the core of the book, a continuous garland of reminiscences strung together with great care, stories of those whose lives were so deeply touched by Swamiji. Many are refreshingly candid, especially from the early Indian devotees, and you get a sense of the great wonder - and bemusement - that His appearance must have caused when the tapasya began in a tiny weaver's village off the beaten track nearby the Godavari river.

Then there are the tales relating the great power he had as a Yogi, the palpable force that surrounded him, especially in the first years of his teaching. When he first emerged from 12 year's tapasya, Swamiji looked divinely beautiful, with his matted locks and benevolent gaze. Devotees relate how that powerful aura became less intimidating as the years went by, after so much service, illness, and travelling. And some of the lucky devotees were extremly intimate with him, fluent in his dialect. Their stories show that particularly Indian mixture of groundedness and respect about a Guru - whereas we in the West tend to regard Gurus as china dolls to be carefully wrapped in silks and placed on an inaccessible altar.

Glimpses of the strong-willed boy he once was come through the reminiscences - his stubborn defiance in the face of  rigid authority; his outspoken attitude to religions and spiritual leaders and the whole Guru business; his dislike of lying or cheating. His sense of fun, too.

To Swamiji's great credit, he was never corrupted by travelling to the West, as so many teachers from India were. He never charged for his programmes. He avoided organisational empire building. Ashrams only began in India organically. He was, therefore, a shining star which only the lucky few in the West saw him at the time, and then largely by accident.

The book is so magnificent. And it made me write a poem to the young boy before he began his tapasya, and here it is. It will make sense to those who know Swamiji's story:

Beware! Beware! Beware young boy
Do not pick the fruit off the ground!
Do not split it open!
You will be bitten by snakes and rats
If you do!

Neighbours will burn you
They will beat you
You will nearly die of thirst!

You will know no earthly lover
Or the sound of your children’s feet on the floor
Of your earthen home.

You will no longer sell bidis
Or weave cloth.
You will make your mothers cry.

Stay away from the canal bank
Stay far away, young boy!
Run back to
The village of weavers.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Anandamayi Ma: Tale of a Guru and a disciple

Lost as I am in the presence of my own Yogi, Shivabalayogi, I love reading or hearing stories about devotees and their own spiritual masters. There's a massive and truly excellent book written by a learned American devotee on Shivabalayogi called Swamiji's Treasure which  is replete with the most wonderful tales from devotees, especially from the early days when the force around the great realised yogi was so strong it was almost unendurable. I never met him in life, but he is with me every day.

Another great book on the Guru-disciple relationship describes how an Austrian teacher became a sannyasin, Atmananda, as a result of her wonderful relationship with the great Bengali saint Anandamayi Ma.  I have always loved Ananadamayi Ma, not just because of her astonishing physical beauty, but because of who she was, how she taught, and the joy she spread in her long life.

The book is an edited version of Atmanada's diaries over about 15 years, by Ram Alexander, Death itself will Die, and details what life was like around Anandamayi Ma in the 1940s and 1950s.

She was a self-realised soul of the highest attainment, but part of Ananadamayi's lila was that she observed strict caste rules... and Atmananda as a result had frustratingly limited access to just about everything, being neither a Brahmin or a... well I guess you'd say... being a foreign barbarian, a mleccha.  Her diary records every moment of anger at the petty rules which did not allow Atmamanda access to temples, worship, touching Ananadamay Ma and so forth. It regularly drove her to tears. But in between the storms of emotion, the disciple faithfully began to record her guru's words and actions. She became the editor of the monthly Anandamayi Ma ashram magazine, and highly esteemed. She also became the translator when many westerners began to seek out Ananadamayi Ma in the 1960s.

There are many fantastic exchanges. The best you can find beautifully designed in a YouTube video (Type in Ma Ananadamayi dialogue and you should come across it).

Perhaps the most moving part of the book comes at the end, when the editor descibes Atmananda's own death as a Yogi. She died sitting up, repeating Ma's name, a perfect end for a courageous woman.

She knew Krishnamurti well, met Ramana Maharshi, and many other saints.

What I like about Atmananda is her unflinching honesty, sense of humour and determination to follow spiritual discipline despite every obstacle in her way. If there is a yogic loka to which I can travel after death, I hope to meet her, she's make excellent company!

The dance of disciple and Guru is unique in every case, and it always involves effort and some pain as the disciple confronts the stripping away of what they have previously treasured so dearly - their own self-interest and comfortable narcissistic concerns.  How Anandamayi Ma accomplished with Atmananda this makes  just rivetting reading. That's her below...

This is an official obituary for her:

An official note.

It is with deep regret that we have to announce the passing away of Brabmacharini Atmananda, the Editor of the Ananda Varta (English) on Tuesday, the 24th September, the Shukia Ekadasi Teethi of the month of Bhadra, 1985, at Kalyanvan Ashram, Dehradun. She had been responsible for the English version of Ananda Varta since its inception, and was over 80 years age, having earlier in the year celebrated 50 years of her stay in India.
She originally hailed from Austria, and was known as Sister Blanca during the early years of her life in our Ashrams. Later, Ma accorded her full Brabmacharini rights, and the wearing of saffron robes. As an esteemed and immensely respected samnyasini of the Ashram, her body was brought by road to Kankhal, bathed, anointed, clothed and placed in front of the Samädhi of Ma, before being consigned to the Eternal waters of the Ganga of Hardwar, as is the traditional custom with Sadhus and Samnyasinis.
Atmanandaji had hen first darshan of Ma at Almora in 1943. Later, in 1944 and 1945 when she was teaching at Rajghat, she had more opportunities of associating with Ma, but it was not until 1945 that she became an inmate of our Ashrams.
Atmanandaji's services were invaluable as the official interpreter during the visits of foreigners of either sex as she was fluent in German, French and other Continental languages. Her knowledge of English was profound and she was an adept in translating Ma's original Sad Vanis and utterances from Bengali to English. She was in close touch with the authors of publications on Ma in Europe and America, and had been responsible for printing Ma's diary in the English Ananda Varta from its beginning.
Having been earnestly encouraged by us, she had recently published a beautiful book on her own experiences under Ma's feet, called "As the Flower sheds its Fragrance", in 1983, followed by the first of three volumes of "Matri Lila" covering the period 1952-1962 in 1985. The next volume for the period 1962-1972 has just been completed, and she was to follow up with the final volume for the period 1972-82. She was also actively engaged in editing the English translation of Sri D. P. Mukherjee's excellent Bengali book "Matri Darshan Leela."
She was a singer of repute in her own rights, and from her early days in the Ashram, became an expert at our Ashram kirtans. It was her remarkable strength of mind and stamina, that enabled her to preserve the singing of the "Name" alone, during the lean period of the day from 1-30 p.m. to 3-30 p.m. at big festivals when under Ma's strict instructions, the Holy name was sung Akhand in the main halls of our Ashrams.
She must have suffered incredible hardships without murmur during her earlier Ashram life, but they never left any impact on the serenity and sweetness of her disposition. Her punctuality was a byword among her friends, and she applied herself regularly to all the arduous tasks of editing with meticulous zeal and sincerity.' She never passed anything for publication without authenticating the facts as far as she could, and was a great help and asset to all the foreign devotees of Ma who were keen to learn about Ma's teachings, and reproduce, in their own languages, Her edicts, conversations and sayings in their own countries. She had been suffering from cataract over the past few years but heroically carried in with her never-ending duties whenever she could obtain decent light. She breathed her last after a very brief illness, let us hope that she suffered very little in the end, and is now resting in Eternal peace at the lotus feet of Ma, for whom she gave up everything on earth for the realization of the Supreme Truth. It is up to the rest of us to complete her unfinished work, and continue with the publication of her beloved Ananda Varta and other valuable books on Ma along the prestigious lines established by her.

Friday, 7 October 2011

SHIVABALAYOGI: initial experience

Is there anyone luckier or more blessed? How can I even describe this ecstacy that flows through me? All from the mighty Lord Of Yogis Shri Shri Shri Shavabalayogi, the one absolutely true Guru I've found, the shining source. 

I spent all 9 days of navaratri 2011 duly chanting the different chapters of the Chandi Path, and trying to somewhat ruthlessly cut down all the additional material that the Devi Ma ashram includes in their quirky translation of this series of slokas to the great Goddess, Divine Mother in the form of Durga (which is also known as the Devi Mahatyam.) To chant the whole lot in one go takes 5 hours and leaves you exhausted unless you are used to that sort of thing. But cutting it into bite-sized portions spread over days is an entirely sensible and time-honoured way to go about it.

Why do it in the first place? Well, you can have your own reasons, maybe a wish-list of boons you want. In my case I tried to do it out of devotion, but in fact became increasingly irritated by the practice. It grew harder and harder, almost like a heavy physical burden, a stone i had to carry round which seemed to get larger by the minute.

Finally, this strange process reached a climax of sorts, and produced a manifestation of ferocious will-power, a resolution "I'm going to finish this no matter what," and after that everything got easier. I recited my Chandi Path in the evening following 35 minutes of the Sandhya Vandanam Gayatri prayers and then 1 hour meditation, after I got back from work, so you can imagine it took all the early evening.

The one boon iIdid ask for, sort of formed spontaneously in my heart - the boon of a true Yogi who could help me in sadhana, not just take my money, time and devotion and scarper. I'd been burned too many times. And this was answered in a remarkable way.

I had only known about Shiva Bala Yogi for about a month. Despite being a 35-year long meditator and compulsive collector of all things yogic, i'd never ever heard of him! Odd in itself, as he was widely known in India and even toured the West. But destiny works in mysterious ways.

No sooner had I asked this boon, well... not really asked but it came out, anyway... the next thing I knew in meditation was that this mighty Yogi arrived. He parked himself in my body, in my mind, in my senses, with some insouciance and perfect freedom. I could not escape him! Still can't. He is in my waking state every minute at the moment. When I start to meditate I have to be careful. The current is so strong, his form and darshan so compelling, that the mind gets fixated and I can't get out of meditation.  And I have to work for a living.

What a glorious position to be in! My busy intellect, when it reboots, knows all about this. But what a grace. Just for this time (until I next mess up) a Yogi has come to steer me in meditation. I cannot even form the words of gratitude.

Read all about Him and you'll discover a fantastic wonderful Master, who never charged for teaching, never got into the whole awful Guru business, never really put a foot wrong. And now his foot is literally bathing in my skull pan. You have to experience this yourself...