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MEMORIES ALONG THE WAY

EARLY YEARS

It’s a very clear memory or dream from somewhere in my childhood: I’m flying fast through space towards planet Earth below me. There’s a clear feeling that I have something important to do there. 

My first chronological memory at about one year old is a joyful one of being lowered into the sun-sparkling water of the babies pool at the Onehunga public pools. That was the first of many childhood trips to the pools on sun-drenched summer days. There was a flat, circular concrete area painted in segments of different colours, each slice absorbing a different amount of heat. It was quite educational really. After a long cool dip I would sun bath on the black segment which held the most heat.

I grew up at the foot of One Tree Hill, a large volcanic cone in Auckland. The Maori named it Maungakiekie for the kie kie berries which grew there. Having a ‘backyard’ like that was a wonderful connection with nature in my early life. For my friends and I, the maunga, with its still visible signs of Maori occupation, was a constant source of mystery and adventure as we ran free across her slopes.

In primary school we learned about atoms. After class I recall looking at a huge brick wall, amazed that it was made of billions and billions of unseen atoms. It was mind-opening to realise that there was a deeper reality behind what I saw with my eyes. I remember another teacher saying, “God is everywhere”. While walking home I was dreamily mulling over this idea when I was suddenly hit by a realization: if God is everywhere, that infinite being must be with me right here and now and not in some distant heaven.

I usually spent my holidays with Uncle Bill on his farm, getting up at four o’clock to milk the cows and returning for a hearty breakfast of porridge, fresh milk and blackstrap molasses. My uncle traced his ancestry back to Sir Francis Drake the legendary British seafarer-cum-pirate. Some salt of the sea was also in uncle’s blood as he could sometimes be seen pouring over beautifully photographed books of modern sailboats with real appreciation. He was considered something of an eccentric by the rest of the family. He practiced yoga and ate wholemeal bread back in the 50’s and 60’s before it was trendy. His bookshelf was filled with esoteric books on ghost sightings, yoga books with photos and more profound books which I couldn’t understand. He used to demonstrate Uddayana Mudra or Nauli, pulling in his stomach to form a large cavity then rolling his stomach muscles, much to my fascination and to the mild revulsion of guests. Interestingly, this mudra later proved to be important for my health, especially during a prolonged stay in India when I had stomach problems.

I attended boarding school and at the age of fourteen we had a ‘confirmation’ service to become full members of the church. There were special preparation classes and the bishop was coming to give us his blessing. I expected that this would be a deeply significant experience in my life. The auspicious day came; the bishop stood at the altar attired in full regalia and one by one we went before him to receive his blessing. I knelt and he laid his hands on my head. But what was this? I felt nothing! – just a heavy physical pressure on my skull. It was a huge let down – a dry ritual. I had anticipated an energy transmission of some sort – something enlightening and inspiring! This disillusionment sparked a couple of years of adolescent rebelliousness before I began my spiritual search in earnest.

INITIATION
In my first year of university I was seriously looking for a spiritual path and an effective form of meditation. Meditating from a book hadn’t satisfied me and the spiritual groups I had visited seemed nice, but didn’t attract me strongly. It was becoming clear that I needed a reliable spiritual guide.

I read several books about spiritual seekers and gurus in India and decided to go there myself to seek my own guru. I wanted only a perfectly realized teacher, a Sadguru, into whose care I could entrust my spiritual life with full confidence. Perhaps, I thought, I would find him in the Himalayas or in an ashram there. I thought it best to travel after completing tertiary studies, however, my plans were about to be accelerated!

Two days later I was with friends in my hostel room having an animated discussion about meditation. There was a knock on the door and an orange-shirted young man opened it announcing a lecture on meditation about to begin in the chapel downstairs! I immediately decided to attend, though my friends declined the invitation. To this day I am grateful to Jaideva, the door-knocking devotee, for his dedication that night.

This lecture had been extensively postered throughout the university, but the advertised topic had not been appealing and no one came. Unfortunately, “War of Dharma – choose your side” hadn’t sparked the imagination of  Canterbury university students. I had seen the poster and remember thinking I’d stay well away from these crazy people! However, the last-minute door knocking for a lecture on meditation brought six of us to the lecture. Entering the chapel we saw an orange-clad, lotus-bound yogi meditating on a chair under the cross at the front. Ringlets of blond hair curled down from beneath his turban, framing a serene, lightly-bearded face. I had read of yogis in Kashmiir with Caucasian features and surmised that he must be one of them. There was something special in the atmosphere. We had all cautiously seated ourselves in the very back row, leaving the monk alone at the front. He finished his meditation and with a confident wave of his hand summoned us to sit up in front of him. Dada Kashyapa’s Italian-accented lecture on meditation, mantra, Guru and the importance of social service, struck a deep chord in me. A strong, inspiring energy was coming through with an intensity I had not felt in my visits to other spiritual groups.

After an initial visit to the Ananda Marga center I read “A Guide to Human Conduct”, which explains the ten yogic ethical principles, cover-to-cover several times. As it was written by the Guru, I felt that I would only take initiation if I agreed with it. As I entered the jagrti a few days later, Dada asked, “Did you decide?” “Yes,” I affirmed and he sent me off for a chilly wash before sitting with him.
Initiation – the instructions from the Guru’s representative, a sense of floating timelessness and it was over. I intuitively knew that I had found my path and that Anandamurtiji was the Sadguru I sought.  I didn’t have to search the ashrams of India – perhaps my sincere willingness to do so was enough. There is no place beyond the guru’s reach. From that day I became vegetarian and gave up intoxicants. I had tried several times in the past to give up cigarette smoking as I knew it was harmful, but my will power had failed me. Now, mysteriously, the desire had gone. While Jaideva taught me asanas at the jagrti the following Sunday, I had the clear feeling, “I have come home.”

MANTRA IS POWERFUL

A month or so after my initiation Dada Dharmapal (later Dharmavedananda) encouraged me to go for LFT training in Sydney. I felt inspired to go, but it would mean quitting university in the middle of my first year. There were family expectations around my studies and friends of the family had even helped with my university expenses. This created a really clashy dilemma for me.

For several days my undecided mind got pulverized between these two grinding stones. Doubts, pressures and clashes wrestled around inside my head. When the inner turmoil reached a peak of intensity, I threw up my arms and flopped down in a chair, worn out by the whole experience. The intense mental churning must have forced me to surrender my intellect; suddenly the idea came to start repeating my Ista mantra. After mentally saying my mantra three times the effect was astounding! The dark clouds of confusion and anxiety simply evaporated and I was flooded with relief and deep happiness. I knew exactly what I should do. Despite having lost interest in studying, I decided to finish the year off and try to pass my exams. I could then reasonably justify taking a ‘break’ from university to do the LFT training. The solution seemed obvious now, but guru had thrown up an obscuring veil in order to allow for my inner purification, removing it when the time was right.

With the regular practice of sadhana and participation in Marga programs I felt a guiding force in my life. I went home to Auckland for the term holidays and Uncle Bill happened to pay a visit. He was happy that I had been initiated into meditation practice (though he had never taken it up himself) and asked if I had read “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramhansa Yogananda. “No”, I replied. “You must read it!” he said. “I’ll take you in to the spiritual bookshop and buy you a copy”. Yogananda’s inspiring story was my satsaunga those holidays and spurred me on to do more sadhana.

CLASH AND COHESION

I had been enjoying the inner peace and contentment provided by my meditation and other practices and had attended a retreat in Nelson and a seminar on the 16 Points given by Dada Dharmapal in Dunedin.  I knew Baba had been stressing the importance of the 16 Points and felt that one way I could please him would be to follow them. I gradually adopted them and asa result was feeling closer to my guru. However, the path of true progress will always throw up clashes, struggles and challenges for our strenghtening and purification.

Perhaps two or three months after my initiation LFT Giriish (Local Full Time volunteer of Ananda Marga) visited me with some ominous news. I already knew that Baba had been imprisoned on false charges by Indira Gandhi’s regime, had been poisoned in jail and that he was doing a prolonged protest fast. Under Gandhi’s draconian ‘state of emergency’ (1975-77) his life was seriously at risk. I also knew that Margiis had protested peacefully here in Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world, but Giriish carried some more serious news: a couple of misguided young Margiis had been arrested for conspiring to bomb the Indian High Commission building in Wellington! Giriish conveyed this news to me very calmly and philosophically and went on his way leaving me to process the tidings. My new-found peace shattered, I was thrown into a dark inner turmoil – “What have I got myself into?’ “Who were these people really?” These and other questions drove away my contentment and inspiration. There were dramatic,negative reports in the media and the  other students in the hostel who had been initiated quickly distanced themselves.

“Along with the obstacles there will also be certain forces which will assist you.” – Baba

 

When the guru gives a test he ensures that there is a balance between the negative and positive samskaras involved so that the disciple can, with determination and application, pull through the difficult period. I knew the meditation was good and effective so, importantly, I continued to practice three times a day. I had already felt an inner connection with Anandamurtiji as my guru and knew intuitively that he was a pure and loving entity, incapable of doing harm. The fact that the plotters were caught before doing the deed also indicated to me that it was not the cosmic wish for them to be successful. After a week or so the miserable clouds of doubt and confusion dissipated leaving me perhaps even more firmly back on the path.

EXAMS

When exams came around, I selected likely topics to study and meditated before each exam. Entering the exam hall, I would try to feel that all knowledge was available to my deeper self –an idea I had picked up in my spiritual reading. Perhaps this helped, as I passed all the subjects and some with quite good grades. My family was pleasantly surprised at this successful outcome and my absorbed interest in meditation and Ananda Marga was vindicated. I felt free to go to training. I had the feeling even then thatmy ‘break’ from university may become a permanent one. After my exams I helped Girish set up a jagriti (ashram) in Christchurch where we both stayed while earning enough for our airfares to Australia . There was to be a Sectorial retreat in Sydney and after that I would go to LFT training. We used to do our practices together which I found supportive. One morning as we meditated a scene appeared in my mind as if I was sitting high on a mountain side. Below me a forested mountain slope fell away. I felt that the scene was linked to meditation, though certainly not in this lifetime. Could it be that beginning meditation in this life had stimulated a long-forgotten memory from another time and place?

LFT TRAINING
After attending the sectorial retreat in Australia, it was on to LFT training. We were twelve brothers and sisters living in a large two-story house in North Sydney. We all had fulltime jobs to support the training center and the sectorial office, doing our practices together morning and evening. In the evenings and weekends the two Didis who were training us gave us classes. As I had a heavy truck license my duty was to drive the newly donated AMURT truck which was used for service work as well as paid delivery work. One night a week we would all pile into the truck and go to attend disaster relief training with the State Emergency Services.
It was inspiring to see those LFTs already posted in the field when they occasionally visited. Baba was lying ill and fasting in a dingy prison cell in Patna, but was releasing incredible energy into his mission. There were twenty LFTs working in Australasia at the time plus we twelve in training. After passing my LFT exam I was posted to work in Wellington, NZ. For several years I had full-time work in order to support the jagrti and activities, doing my LFT work in the evening and weekends. I had jobs as a builder’s laborer, a hospital orderly and as a clerk in a government department.

KSATTRIYA SERVICE

One night I was doing late night meditation in the front room of the jagriti when I heard a woman’s voice shouting outside. I initially thought it was just drunken behavior, but I soon felt the urgent and distraught tone in her voice as she called for help. I quickly jumped up and informed a few sleeping brothers, then grabbing a torch I headed out into the street. I was moving in a calm and efficient way, and strangely, felt no fear as I went to face a possibly dangerous situation. Baba was in control, using me just like a machine to get some work done. I approached the car where I heard her cries and called out to her, “Are you alright?”.  Suddenly, a Polynesian youth burst out of the car and sprinted away. The woman had been raped and was very traumatised. Kabir had also come out and we took her inside where she was comforted and given a cup of tea while we called the police. I saw first-hand the devastating impact of rape on the victim. Some months later Kabir and I were grape picking up North when the police arrived looking for us. At first the vineyard owners thought we might be in trouble with the law, but the police were there to summon us as witnesses in the rape case and we were later flown down to Wellington for the trial. As I stood in the witness box and gave my testimony I could see the shame and pain etched on the faces of the accused and his family as they listened.

THE RAWA HOUSE 

The RAWA House was the main project of Ananda Marga in Aotearoa during the late ‘70s. We were six, Margiis and LFTs, staying in the jagriti in Mt. Victoria, Wellington – Jyotsna, Kavi, Nitya, Kabir, Devapriya and myself. With Dada Vachaspati, our dynamic regional secretary, the idea came up to establish a cultural center. Kavi spoke to some government contacts and we were given use of a disused government building at the top of Cuba St, very near the CBD. The first year was rent-free while we renovated. We were all put on a government employment scheme which provided a basic payment for those working full-time on community projects. We were strict about working the requisite hours and operated as a collective, putting this income into a common fund which paid for the renovations and our living expenses.
We would go together daily in our van and work on the renovations under Devapriya’s guidance . It was a big run-down double story building needing a lot of work. We gib-boarded the ceiling and used a grinder on the rough brick walls, emerging covered head-to-foot in red brick dust and coughing it up from our lungs. The brick surface was finally varnished to give an attractive natural finish. The old wooden floors were also sanded off and varnished.

We opened after a year’s hard work with the place looking really attractive. There was a small stage for live musical performances and the varnished brick walls were perfect for art exhibitions. Nitya was at the helm of the kitchen which served vegetarian food and snacks. We held events such as fundraising dinners for AMURT’s disaster relief work and film nights to spotlight social justice issues such as the then East Timor situation. Renaissance Universal organised a public forum with leading intellectuals from Victoria University participating. The RAWA house ran for several years becoming well known in Wellington’s alternative circles.

WITH BABA IN CALCUTTA

After working for four years as an LFT I had a strong desire to go for Acarya training. A couple of times I was asked to stay back further to help with the work in New Zealand and a year later I finally left for the training center in Katmandu, Nepal. I stopped off in Calcutta to see Baba and was asked to stay on for three months LFT work in the Central Office – a great opportunity to see Baba twice daily, when he came to the office in the morning and at his house when he went out for his evening walk. One evening, shortly after my arrival, Baba stopped in front of me, smiled, and made a typing gesture with his fingers. “Office work?”, he said. That was very sweet of him to take notice of me and put me at ease. 

Jayanta Kumar from Australia was also working as LFT in the central office and we often went to Baba’s house together in the evenings. Jayanta’s game plan was very simple – to stay as close to Baba as possible for as long as he could. He was virtually a permanent resident of Calcutta central office throughout the 1980’s.   One night when Baba had returned from his walk he stopped in front of Jayanta and asked, “And what does this little boy say?” (Normally people would reply by saying ‘namaskar’). Jayanta replied “Pranam, Baba”. “Pranam?” Baba replied in a somewhat surprised tone and moved on.

Baba’s house was a magical place. Being in Guru’s own house was so special. Baba wanted to have his devotees there to interact with and give of himself. He wanted to interact with his them and give of himself.  In my memory Baba’s house is associated with the beautiful scent of flowers – partly from the night-scenting jasmine in the garden, partly from the fresh, sweet-smelling garlands of devotees eager to garland Baba, and perhaps also from the intoxicating natural floral scent that sometimes emanated from Baba’s own body.

After some weeks I had Personal Contact with Baba. I entered his room and saw him lying on his left side, head propped on his fist. He was looking up and away toward the corner of the room. My impression was of someone totally self-reliant and self-contained – sufficient unto himself. He was now dispassionate and grave. I did sastaunga pranam and sat near him. After the usual preliminary questions he asked, “What do you want?” Taken by surprise, I had no spontaneous reply. Perhaps as a relative beginner on the path my true inner response had not yet matured and I felt shyness in front of such an entity. As I was delaying Baba just continued; with his right hand he motioned first across and then down my torso and said, “You will have to use this human frame to serve the suffering humanity.”  He then placed his right hand on my head saying “Subhamastu”, a blessing for psycho-spiritual welfare. After receiving Baba’s blessing he gently indicated that I should go. This was a very short PC, though I found my mind in an expanded flow for several days afterwards.

With his question, “What do you want?”, Baba planted a seed which came to fruition twenty-eight years later. I was at my last retreat in South America after working there for fifteen years. I was doing Guru dhyana at the end of the twelve-hour kiirtan when the scene of my PC and Baba’s question replayed in mind. Immediately my answer came as a strong feeling, “I just want you, Anandamurti, just you.” It had taken twenty-eight years of service, clash and cohesion to come to this realisation.

Baba’s question also showed me that I need to be very clear and detirmined about what I want in life, and that what I deeply want is also what Baba wants for me.

Coming back to that first time with Baba in Calcutta; there was a powerful undertow of attraction pulling me toward him at every opportunity. I knew Baba wanted me to come closer but shyness was holding me back. This play was going on. One evening at his house, Baba had almost walked past me before I said ‘Namaskar Baba’. He stopped and turned to me. My hands were in namaskar position at my chest. He held my fingers between his thumb and forefinger and shook them in a gentle, playful way. “You were late in saying Namaskar,” he said, giving me an affectionate pat on my cheek. Baba’s fingers felt as soft and subtle as velvet energy and I could feel the place where he touched me for several days afterwards.

A SPECIAL DARSHAN

One evening Jayanta and I had gone as usual to Baba’s house to see him when he went out for field walk. Suddenly a Dada came out and told us to run immediately back to the Jodhpur Park office, as Baba would be going there. Something special was in the air. Shortly after we reached, Baba arrived and went into his room with a group of Dadas. Suddenly the door opened and we were ushered inside and given seats in front of Baba’s cot! This was unusual – Baba had said that anyone outside the door should be allowed in and we were the only ones there. Baba lay on his left side, his head propped on his hand. His skin had a soft glow, offset by a white silken kurta. He emanated an attractive, mystical aura. A young Dada stood and sung a Hindi bhajan (Prabhat Samgiit had yet to be introduced) and as Baba watched and listened, two tears trickled from his eyes. It was an enchanting scene. After the song had finished, we were asked to leave and Baba continued his session with the Acaryas.

Small incidents stick in my memory such as Baba coming down the office stairs after a grueling reporting session with the Acaryas. His body needed a cool atmosphere, but the air conditioning had failed that day. His hair was plastered to his head with sweat and he slowly descended the stairs. Despite his obvious fatigue, as he passed me he asked me, “Ok?”

One morning at the office I was waiting for him up on the first floor when I heard his voice resounding up the stairs, “I have left five plants with Raghu da [the office accountant]. If anyone is interested in taking the plants please contact Raghu.” He had taken the trouble to personally announce this seemingly minor matter.

 I had guided a group of newly arrived brothers from Japan into town for some work they needed to do. We rushed back hoping to attend Baba’s darshan. As we reached the top of the stairs to the rooftop darshan area the stair door opened and down stepped Baba on His way out! An amused smiled played on his lips, perhaps at the unusual timing of our arrival just as He was leaving. However brief, it was still a close darshan and the first time those brothers had seen him.

On Baba’s birthday he came to the office. He didn’t say much that day – it was just to be with us. While he was sitting, Didi Ananda Karuna offered him a plate of sweets. He took a tiny pinch to make them prasad, opened his mouth and popped it in, wobbling his head in happy approval. Didi was also very happy.

On Sunday afternoons Baba gave darshan at his house. First, he would sit and give his deeply ideational Namaskar and then meditate for five or ten minutes, his facial expression serene with the hint of a smile on his lips. His large, beautifully formed hands adorned by two or three rings were clasped in his lap. Sometimes, as he talked, with his left foot turned up on his right thigh, he would insert the fingers of his right hand between his toes and gently massage the ball of his foot. We used to see Baba’s bare feet in those days – they were large and well formed, soft and subtle with a rosy hue. Baba was very much at home with his physical body.

DHARMA SAMIKSA
Dharma Samiksa was an unparalleled event where Baba took on the superhuman task of conducting a spiritual review of thousands of his disciples from around the globe. He reviewed up to 150 disciples a day, punishing, rectifying and propelling them forward along the path of Dharma with great love. Baba usually prescribed a personal set of asanas for each one and sometimes serious diseases blocking one’s spiritual progress would be miraculously cured. The twice-daily sessions continued for several months until Baba’s own health deteriorated due to taking the samskara’s of his beloved disciples.

Meanwhile, the weight seemed to just fall off me in the hot Calcutta climate. One day Dada Shraddhanandaji and Ac Candranathji called me aside with fatherly concern asking, “Why day by day you are becoming so lean and thin?”  I had no idea why, but said that perhaps the Calcutta climate didn’t agree with me. Dada Shraddhanandaji kindly gave me some dietary advice.

Not long after, I was in Baba’s room with twelve other brothers for Dharma Samiksa, witnessing Baba dispensing punishment and guidance in his firm, regal and loving manner. Then it was my turn to stand in front of him. He looked at my emaciated body and in a soft, rather pained tone said, “Why has he been brought here?” There was a kerfuffle among the central workers as they decided who was responsible and I was whisked away. Perhaps Baba felt my health was not strong enough to absorb the energy of Dharma Samiksa. (Of the many Dharma Samiksas I had witnessed that afternoon, all were wiped from my mind except that of a strong, burly Indian brother who had received a sound caning on both sides of his ribcage and then fallen into Baba’s comforting embrace.)

Let me take you forward a few years and tell you how my Dharma Samiksa story came to completion. After being posted in Australia and regaining my health I returned to Calcutta for organisational reporting with Baba. When my turn came to report, the General Secretary (GS) had just asked me the first standard reporting question when there was a change in Baba’s mood and I was asked to stand directly in front of him. Baba then asked me two relatively easy English grammar questions and smiled happily when I was able to answer them. His pleased expression showed a fatherly pleasure and pride that his little boy knew the answers. He then asked me the meaning of my name – it was then Dada Diipaunkar, ‘one who gives light to others’.
Baba: Do you maintain the dignity of your name?
Me: I try Baba.
Baba: Did you maintain the dignity of your name in a hotel in Sydney?

Wow! I was posted in Sydney at the time, but couldn’t recall any untoward behavior in a hotel! I had painted Christmas decorations on hotel windows as a fundraiser, but surely that wasn’t it. I was straining to remember some incident relevant to a hotel in Sydney, knowing that Baba didn’t like to waste time. There was a growing tension in the room as I struggled to remember any likely incident. Suddenly, an apparently small, forgotten event popped into my mind: We often referred to the Sydney jagrti as ‘the hotel’, as it was a common transit point for travelling Dadas. One time I had done something selfish and individualistic instead of being in the collective flow. When I later joined the other Dadas I felt mentally down, my light temporarily dimmed. Then and there that little incident had registered in Baba’s all- perceiving mind.

Me: No Baba, I haven’t maintained the dignity of my name.
Baba: Do you deserve punishment?
Me: Yes.
Baba: How many strokes of the cane?
Me: (feeling contrite) Fifty Baba!
Baba: Fifty?! (sounding surprised that I would ask for so much punishment, but perhaps pleased with my sincerity) All right, go over to GS Dada.

GS had sensed Baba’s intention and gave me one light tap. Baba had wanted me to accept my mistake and be willing to take punishment.
Baba: (smiling like an indulgent father) And the rest we will excuse.

I did sastaunga pranam and went back to join the other workers. When the meeting broke up a senior Dada told me,”That was Dharma Samiksa!”.  Baba had not forgotten.

That night I was sitting alone outside Baba’s room waiting for Dada Keshavananda to come out. Baba’s cook emerged carrying Baba’s dinner plate. “You take this”, he said handing me half of a small soft chapati. I ate it with happy thoughts about who had eaten the other half! I felt it was a special blessing for me directly from Baba. Later Dada Keshavananda told me that Baba had commented something about me. “What did he say?” I asked expectantly. Keshavanandaji replied, “Baba said, ‘He’s very tall!’