Sunday, March 30, 2014


When Sadhana Devi and I first moved to India in 2006, we were asked to lead a class series on the "The Art and Science of Raja Yoga."  In an early class, we addressed the topic of "ahimsa", non-violence, and discussed how this is not simply an outward behavior, a la Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, but an attitude to be extended to our thoughts and emotions.  Non-violence, rightly practiced, also implies a positive cultivation of "universal benevolence."  The students listened attentively and toward the end, I asked for comments and questions. That's when things became interesting. We had tried to create a trusting environment that allowed for a free exchange of thoughts and as a consequence, they were eager to share stories. The underlying theme was anger.  

The students, many of them young, shared of past abuse and sincerely wanted to know how to respond to both their situation and their feelings of frustration at not being able to express what they felt. How could they possibly be non-violent in thought they wanted to know after being treated badly. Was it was even right to be no speak up or retaliate?   Story after story was told of being trained parents and teachers to suppress their feelings or submit, of being mistreated by those who held positions above them, and of being powerless to do anything about it.  They had come to view the word of "ahimsa" not as a tool of strength but rather as a dictum to accept the status quo of  hierarchy, prejudice, power abuse, or acts of petty tyranny.  "Why shouldn't we be angry," they asked, when people were acting so badly toward them or others?  I learned that "ahimsa" can be a loaded word for the younger generation in India, but at the same time, I was encouraged to see their hunger for change.  Non violence in a spirit of love is a weapon of the strong and brings lasting change as opposed to a temporary reshuffling of the cards. 

Calm "centeredness" is an quality admire.  I see it in the natural dignity of Indians but I've also noticed anger too, the fruit of frustrated desires and inhibitions.  How can we help people find practical solutions to answer their need?  It was with this thought that I wrote the following blog entry. 

Years ago, in a moment of frustration, I spoke very harshly to a co-worker. To my horror, she broke into tears under the weight of my assault and I still remember my feelings of regret and deep dismay at my inability to control myself. I had been shooting bullets of disharmony into a crowd of innocents.
I see so much anger these days and wonder why. Is it really on the rise or am I simply more sensitive to it now? Maybe people feel less inhibited expressing it openly whereas before it was repressed. I don’t know the answer but I feel sure anger is a spiritual disease that leads us to tremendous unhappiness, within and without. Life turns away from the angry person and consigns him to a world of darkness.

In all my years in the company of Swami Kriyananda, I can honestly say I never saw him angry.  There were times he was exasperated at someone’s folly, but never angry or knocked off his “center.”  Many times he said, “I’ve resolved to never let anyone or anything steal my peace” and lived his life that way.  A thief is what anger is, taking from us those things we most want in life:  harmony, friendship, clarity, and joy.  All are sacrificed when we leave our heart open for anger to enter.

Some might say, “I have a right to be angry because of what was done to me.  Wouldn’t you too be angry in such circumstances?”  I can’t say until tested, but I do know that just as happiness is a choice and not the fruit of circumstances, so too is anger.  Why choose it when it drives away what we really want and inevitably leads to that which we want to be free from?

Anger, as the scriptures say, is the fruit of frustrated desires and attachment; when we don’t get what we want, we get mad.  One obvious solution is to let go of desires, but that’s easier said than done.  Something more is needed.   Swami Kriyananda wrote, “Examine your heart for any feeling of ill will toward others. Carefully uproot any such feeling, and plant in its stead fragrant flowers of forgiveness. Only when your heart has been softened by universal benevolence may you hope to become receptive to the gentle vibrations of divine love. Do not imagine that you can win God’s love until you have developed the power to win the love of man.

The impulse toward “universal benevolence” was Swamiji’s “secret” and something we too can each cultivate, especially when things seem to be going wrong.  He came to Master with a personal desire for God and also with a desire to share God’s joy with all.  When God fills our heart, where is there room for anger?

Saturday, January 18, 2014


I find myself traveling frequently while in India, going to the cities where Ananda's work in progressing, presenting programs and helping the local leaders.  Over the last two weekends I was in both Singapore and Bangalore, two vary different places, doing a program in each.  One city is extremely tidy and efficient (guess which one) while the other is extremely congested and in need of a good scrub.  Seemingly very different on the outside, I nevertheless felt "at home" and enjoyed my stay in each. I was thinking about why.  The answer is because in both places, I found devotees and gurubhais.  it is the people, not the place, that makes me want to return.  Paramhansa Yogananda concluded his autobiography with the words, "God has given this monk a large family."  His presence shines through his large family of disciples in a similar way everywhere, no matter the country, making us feel at home everywhere.  Similarly, when we try to see God in every circumstance, we feel His joy always with us.  

With that thought, I wrote the following post on the topic of "Dispassion" for our website 

While visiting the city of Puri many years ago, Swami Kriyananda spoke with a venerable sadhu, said to be one hundred and thirty years old.  Obviously a man of spiritual accomplishment, the sadhu was an exponent of the path of extreme vairagya, the practice of stern renunciation of the material world.  During their conversation, Swamiji asked, “What about a beautiful sunset?  Is even that something to ignore and not enjoy?”  “Yes!” replied the sadhu sternly, “Even that!”

Swami Kriyananda was much too respectful to comment.  He recognized such total dispassion as a valid path for those inclined to follow it but in his own mind, he could not but think, “How dry!”  His own guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, had been very different in his approach, enjoying everything as an expression of God’s beauty.

Yoganandaji saw God as manifested in all creation: the earth, stars and in other people.  His disciples once discovered him in a state of blissful ecstasy on the lawn of Mt. Washington Estate, his ashram home in Los Angeles.  “You don’t know how beautiful it all is,” he marveled, turning about and gesturing toward everything around him.  Where the disciples saw but trees, buildings and sky, the master saw everything as brilliant, beautiful, expanding light, colorfully pulsating with Divine Mother’s bliss.

Swami Kriyananda expressed renunciation in much the same manner as his guru. His nature emphasized positive expansion of one’s sympathies, not rejection.   In all of life’s experiences, he found inspiration which he expressed through music, art, writing or discourse.  “See Divine Mother in everything, be Her willing instrument and share with others,” was his advice.  What we need to renounce is ego, the selfish attitude that thinks first of “me and mine,” and the tendency to follow our personal likes and dislikes to the exclusion of what is right and proper.

The sadhu’s path was one of dispassion, a necessary attitude toward whatever draws us away from God.  To this, add love to keep our hearts from becoming dry. An intense love for all things divine will bring, unbidden, a natural disinclination toward that which separates us from our beloved.  As Master once said to Swami Kriyananda, “When ecstasy comes, all else goes.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It Takes Good Karma

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve not been posting lately.  Things became so busy, writing for the weblog fell far down the list of things to do and once one stops, it’s hard to start up again.  That said, I’m going to try something different.  Here in India, we are trying to improve our website ( and I have begun to write short, inspirational pieces for it.  My thought is to also post those here and when inspired to do so, add a few comments that won’t appear on the Ananda India site.  Below is my first effort.

The following piece was inspired by my observation that people often come onto the spiritual path with great enthusiasm but have a difficult time keeping their inspiration high enough to counteract the continual pull of the world.  In time, inspiration fades and people are drawn to other pursuits in their quest to find happiness or fulfillment.  I see this everywhere and certainly not least in India.  Good intentions are plentiful but follow-through is often lacking.

It's not unique to India but it is common here for students to mistake intellectual knowledge of a subject for actual understanding of it and of the need to put our idealism into practice, day after day.  To hear a good discourse, read an inspiring book, visit a temple or even to have darshan with a saint is not enough.  As Yoganandaji said to an Indian disciple who complained about his lack of progress, "God's blessings are there.  My blessings are there.  It is your blessings that are lacking."

This tendency toward casual effort is counterbalanced here by the fact that most people actually do want God in their lives, a sentiment not so readily found in the West.  The divine hunger seems stronger in India and for that, I'm grateful.  The mountain is high but at least some are willing to climb.  

It Takes Good Karma 

Brother Norman, one of Swami Kriyananda’s fellow monks at SRF, was going through a difficult period and lamented to Paramhansa Yogananda, “I must not have very good karma, sir.”  His guru replied strongly, “Remember, it takes very, Very, VERY good karma even to want to know God!”

To seek God, to find a true path or to have a God-realized guru is a rare blessing.  Compared with these, whatever obstacles we face are trivial.  If you love God and truly seek His blessing, be reassured you are blessed already.  God guides and protects His devotees. 

A corollary to the story about Norman is less remembered.  Swamiji explained, when asked why some devotees left the ashram and their guru’s guidance, “Only a very few come into this life with enough good karma to keep them on the spiritual path for a lifetime.”  Good karma from the past reawakens our desire for God but we mustn’t become complacent.  If we allow it to expire or grow stale, other karma comes to pull us elsewhere. 

It’s a mistake to imagine our longing for God will last without additional support.  We may think, “My love for God is so strong. I’ll always feel this way.” Beware! Like a fire burning brightly, unless additional fuel is added, it slowly dwindles to embers to await a future lifetime to flare again. 

For the spiritual seeker, it’s vital to keep one’s inspiration replenished. Remember and hang onto those blissful feelings and enthusiasm you experienced when you first came to the spiritual path in this life.  Reawakened “sleeping soldiers of spiritual qualities from past lives” came to your aid to spur you forward.  Once aroused through meditation and devotion, our “army” needs nourishment to carry us forward.

“Make hay while the sun shines,” is good advice for both farmers and devotees.   I find those periods when I feel even a little spark of inspiration to be the best times to exert extra effort in my meditation. When I’ve allowed those moments to pass unattended, they seem to have come less often. Pay attention and when grace knocks at your door, invite it in before it passes and goes elsewhere.  And what if you feel no grace or inspiration?   Hold on to God like a sailor lashes himself to a mast during a storm. The sun will eventually come out again and when it does, be ready to set your sails of devotion.  Pray as God’s child until you receive His answer. 

Oh Father, I hold my heart in my folded hands. Teach me to saturate my prayers with Thy love. Give me the simple, sincere devotion toward Thee of a child.  Teach me to realize Thee just behind the voice of my prayer.    – Whispers from Eternity

Monday, April 8, 2013

Completing the Flats

After two years of construction, we’re finally moving into a dozen flats at our Ananda Pune Kriyayoga Community in Pune.  What a journey this project has been!  It will probably take another year to completely finish all the flats but at least we’ll soon be able to inhabit a good portion of them.

Site planning and architectural work for 30 flats began in 2010; construction started in early 2011.  Two contractors were used to "speed" the project along, one from Pune and the other from Delhi. The Delhi fellow worked out better and eventually did most of the work with labor crews from the local area and Pune city.  Funds for the project came from Ananda members from all over India who reserved a flat for their use when the project is complete.  Of the thirty units, we were able to find “buyers” for 23. 

The photo below gives a “bird’s eye” view of the project.  Blocks C and D are the two blocks now coming to completion.  Blocks A and B, the two largest blocks, are comprised of 18 units and are about 80% complete.  We’ve suspended construction on these in order to focus our resources on Blocks C and D. 

One of the final steps toward occupancy was extending utilities to the units.   The electricity took us many, many months to bring in but it is now turned on. The sewage system is complete and below you see us putting in the water system.  We still bring water to the community with our tractor and tanker trolley but have recently purchased property adjacent to a nearby stream and installed a pipeline from there to our land.  We should be getting water from the stream before too long.  

We finished two units at the far end of the above photo in time to accommodate guests visiting from America during our annual Paramhansa Yogananada Mahasamadhi Celebration.  We worked up until the last moment, cleaning, checking systems and installing basic furniture for their use before community residents took possession.

Our biggest challenge to finishing everything is financing. We’ve relied upon advance payments from future residents to build this project, but now that we are close to completion, our inability to sell the remaining units has put us in a bind.  We need to sell them in order to finish.  At least we've been able to bring the unfinished blocks to a point where they are protected from the weather.  Driveways, landscaping and common facilities for all the units will come later.

For now, we will go into the monsoon with twelve completed units.  Hurray for small (big?) miracles!  As Lahiri Mahasaya said, “Banat, banat, ban jai!”  Of those finished, some will be occupied immediately by residents and those without residents will bel used for guests at our retreat and for short term stays by those who have fully paid for units in unfinished in Blocks A and B.  If you are a kriyaban and/or a member of one of the Ananda communities, worldwide and are interested in booking a flat to help us finish, please let me know ( 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Saturday in Mumbai

Bal Thackeray died in Mumbai at 3:30pm on 17 November.  A dozen kilometers north, Swami Kriyananda's discourse began at 5:00.  It made for an interesting combination.  

Bal Thackeray was 86 years old and had been the
"Godfather" of Mumbai politics for forty years, and though unelected to any office, he held Mumbai in his hand.  He was the city's uncrowned king, able to shut it down on a whim, the person to whom politicians, movie moguls, and tycoons paid homage.  Because of him, Bombay became Mumbai and it was he who inflamed nativist anger against "outsiders" coming to the city to "steal" jobs from the sons of Maharashtra.   He aimed his anger first at the Gujaratis and of late, against the Biharis.  In between, it was the Muslims, contributing to the vicious riots in the 1990's.  It was he who pointed the way for his loyal Shiv Sena (army) to follow and do his bidding.  He went unchallenged until Yama came calling.  

Last March upon leaving India, Swami Kriyananda indicated his wish to return later in the year to do a series of lectures in India's major cities.  He had done a very successful one in Mumbai the previous December and it was natural for us to put Mumbai high on the list of places where he would speak.  Working with local Sangha members, we booked Bhaidas Hall, a nice auditorium of 1100 seats for an early evening event on 17 November.  The JW Marriott, a very nice hotel in which Swami could stay, was close by in the Juhu district.  

Filling a big hall is no small undertaking.  Lots of promotion and preliminary classes are needed to attract students, flyers must be printed, buses organized, a stage decorated, audio and video must be coordinated, and all sorts of other logistics attended to.  Over the months leading up to the event, local Sangha members worked extremely hard, doing a fantastic job organizing all the details. Our budget was far less this year than last and we had to make every rupee count if we wanted a crowd to come.  Almost always, there is a bit of chaos at the end as loose ends are tied, but by and large, everything went great and all was ready for Swami's discourse on Saturday.

A group of us drove Swami to Mumbai on Thursday, arriving in the afternoon. Shortly thereafter, I received a text message telling me of a rumor going around the city that Bal Thackeray had died.  Oh oh!  If true, the city would shut down on Friday and possibly for the weekend.  For us, that would be a disaster.  There is a tradition to close up shop when a "big man" like Thackeray goes and it was certain the Shiv Sena would force every shop, vendor and wallah in the city to suspend business, including Bhaidas Hall.  

I immediately checked the internet and started asking if the rumors were true.  The word came, "No, the rumors of his passing are not true!"  The officials who said he had died retracted their statements and claimed he was only gravely ill but getting better, but the text messages continued, saying he had actually died and the government wanted to delay announcing his passing so as not to stop business until the weekend.  Money comes first in Mumbai. It was conspiracy theory at its best.  Whatever the case, we breathed a sigh of relief and prayed for Mr. Thackeray to hang on a little longer if he hadn't already taken his leave.  

Saturday came and by two o'clock, Bhaidas Hall was buzzing. Our preparation team was decorating, setting up tables and arranging displays.  By 4:00 pm, the hall began to fill and the program started on time at 4:30 with a kirtan, fifteen minutes before Swami's arrival. Little did we know that one hour before,  Bal Thackeray's had died and by the time our program began, the news was flashing across a city at a lightning pace.

Swami began speaking at 5:00 pm to an audience of about 750 - 800 people.  I was surprised we hadn't filled the hall but knew from experience that people are often late in India, so I figured it would soon be packed.  Instead, one by one, three or four dozen people slipped out of their seats and left.  The "beep-beep-beep" of incoming text messages was a clue that something was happening.  The audience was distracted and the feeling was flat. Swami gave a great talk but he too could sense something wasn't right and cut his talk short, speaking for only 45 minutes when he almost always goes for an hour.  

What was happening?  When word of Thackeray's death began to circulate, everyone knew the city would close and transportation come to a stop.  Rickshaws would refuse to pick up passengers. Those who received text messages left to catch a ride home as soon as possible to avoid being stranded.  Those who had heard prior to reaching the hall turned home and never came and those who were late, couldn't get into the hall.

As feared, soon after Thackeray's death, members of the Shiv Sena came, demanding of the hall manager he stop the program.  Courageously, he refused, telling the Sena thugs that a spiritual program was in process.  After a bit of haggling, a compromise was reached. In exchange for pulling in the registration tables and closing the gates to late comers, the Sena men didn't interrupt Swami's discourse.  Afterward, Swami was wondering why the audience was so unresponsive and when it was explained to him what had happened he remarked how it was a wonder that so many people had actually come in spite of the situation.  

That evening, after the program, the DGP (Director General of Police) for Mumbai (the top guy in the city) came to meet Swami and offered to personally escort him out of the city the next morning to avoid  any trouble.  True to his word, he came the next day and with red lights flashing, gave Swamiji a police escort to the city's border.  Nayaswami Dhyana and I were scheduled to conduct a followup satsang later that Sunday afternoon but we soon learned it was canceled and we too departed for Pune.  As we exited the city, all streets were deserted and the shops closed. It was the fastest trip across the city I had ever taken. Late Sunday afternoon we reached Pune and it too was completely closed.  

In the days following, thousands of hoardings (billboards) with Thackeray's picture displayed sprang up across the city, one every hundred meters on the main roadways, many of them three or four meters wide.  I imagine they'll stay for some time as who will dare take them down. Thackeray began his career as a political cartoonist and ended up as the most powerful man in Mumbai. Now his son and nephew will fight for control of his political dynasty but I imagine an era has passed and neither will ever rival the power and influence the patriarch once wielded.