Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Kriya Season

Dearest Friends,

November/December is "Kriya Season" at Ananda India. This is when most of our kriya initiations are scheduled, one every other weekend from early November to the end of the year-Gurgaon, Bangalore, Mumbai (Bombey), Gurgaon again, and then Kolkata (Calcutta) on December 30th. Each represents a culmination of one year's effort of classes and visits to the cities outside Delhi and of ongoing activities at our centers in Noida, Delhi and Gurgaon, inside the "NCR" (National Capitol Region-Delhi). Serving these groups far and near has been my main area of focus in India and I'd like to give you a deeper look at what exactly those of us who serve in this part of our work are doing.

Last year, hundreds attended our basic meditation and energization programs, but like everywhere else, large groups of beginners boil down to many less by the time Kriya Initiation comes along. Outside the NCR, only about 10% of those who started the introductory classes last year will take Kriya initiation this season, but the percentage doubles or triples within the NCR. Why? Because we can offer more direct contact with local devotees who attend regular classes and take advantage of opportunities to become involved. This is what we have to find a way to do more of in distant cities.

Last winter, Dharmadas initiated a speaking/workshop tour to four cities to broaden Ananda's reach. Before, almost all of Ananda's energy was focused in the Delhi region to launch Swami's TV program, develop contacts, establish our ashram, open our boutique and conduct local programs. Dharmadas rightly felt a need to reach a national audience because Swami's TV program is being aired across India, generating inquiries from all over. He decided to visit Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai, taking one person to help with registration and books. As it turned out, these programs were very successful, drawing audiences of many hundreds. More teachers and a larger support team were needed to follow up on what he had started and it was at the conclusion of that first tour that I came onto the scene in December and February. Upon arriving, I went to Calcutta and Mumbai while Dhyana and others traveled to Chennai and Bangalore, each of us following up later with smaller programs for those interested in discipleship and Kriya preparation.

This first year's effort was a good start but I'm sure we can do a lot better. Last year, we were not well organized, everything was new, and we lacked local support, meaning that in spite of the large audiences, we usually lost money. You know the phrase, "It was a learning experience." For many reasons, mostly having to do with our lack of resources to properly follow up on what we started, we were unable to generate sustained interest in Kolkata and Chennai as we had in Mumbai and Bangalore. The shear dynamism of the latter two cities overcame our own lack of coordination. In both, groups formed with a strong core of local supporters and now local devotees are offering meditation classes in Mumbai every month.

I returned a few days ago from Mumbai where Dharmadas and I conducted a Kriya ceremony for 31 new kriyabans (see photo of the new kriyabans). While there, we also conducted a satsang for the local meditation group, visited our national book distributor, scouted out venues for future programs, and spent time with our local sanghis. Mumbai is a huge city where someone with energy could probably give programs every week and I suspect someday we will have an active teaching center there. It is the national capital for finance, business and culture, and of course, there is Bollywood, the home of India's film and television industry. Media gossip, scandal, and movie stars posing melodramaticly in the dailies are all a source of great entertainment for India. I've learned all about "Big B" (Amitabh Bachan to the uninitiated, perhaps India's biggest star), his son Abishekh's (voted India's "sexiest man") impending marriage to "Ash" (Ashwarya Rai, another movie star) and a host of other news bits that, along with the latest cricket match, form the national past-time and mania. Mumbai has a very different vibration from Delhi or Kolkata. It is more cosmopolitan, crowded and very busy, where tracts of modern high-rises abut squalid slums. And, interestingly, cars obey traffic rules more so than in Delhi. They stop for red lights and wait until the signal turns green. Amazing. Plus, there is much less haggling with taxi drivers because most of the cabs have meters that work properly. The meters are calibrated for 1970 fares but each driver has an official chart to translate the meter's reading into today's rates. You need to know this should you ever catch a cab in Bombey. Ask for the chart and make sure the cabbie sets the meter going before you start.

Last year we presented our programs in an area of Mumbai known as "Churchgate." This is where the British first established their fort and trading colony and is considered the traditional, tourist center of the city. The famous "Gateway of India" (see photo) is here, along with the fancy hotels, monuments and government buildings. Unfortunately for us, it is at the extreme southern tip of the city, making it difficult for locals to reach without a 1-2 hour commute. It would be equivalent to our doing programs in New York City in the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan, but without the subway system. Next year we'll continue in Churchgate but also break new ground with classes further north in the geographical center of the city. This new venture will take us into areas that are more Indian with less Western presence and without qualified Hindi or Marathi teachers, I'm wondering how it will go.

When we go to a city, our usual format is to arrive one or two days prior to the event to conduct business, arrange future venues, visit with local devotees and work with group leaders. Then, on either Friday or Saturday night we present a free public lecture at an auditorium or large hall, hoping to attract an audience of 300-500. We set up a book and registration table, mingle with the crowd, answer questions, serve tea and give our presentation. On Saturday and Sunday we offer workshops in the beginning techniques, each one lasting 3-4 hours. Typically, our workshop goes from 10 - 1:30 followed by another in the afternoon from 2:30 - 6:00 pm. Often we serve lunch. As mentioned, last year's offerings attracted anywhere from 100-200 students to each class. For advanced students we offer additional classes in Raja Yoga, discipleship, kriya preparation and the Aum technique. We fly home late on Sunday or Monday morning.

Most of these programs, with a few exceptions, were unable this year to generate enough income to break even. My job is to change this in 2007. I hope to see us expand even further but this can only happen if we cover our expenses because there are so many other Ananda India initiatives in need of funds. Using what we learned this year, I think 2007 will be different. As I devise a tour schedule and budget I can now factor in local help, cheaper lodging, reduced venue costs, and more effective advertising. We'll also raise or prices. We have been charging the equivalent of $8.00 for our workshops, and that price includes books and tapes. This year we'll charge about $15.00 (Rs.600-750) Now that we know the ropes better and have Indians negotiating on our behalf, our costs have come down. For example, last week in Mumbai, I spent one day traveling all over the city by taxi with Seema, one of our Ananda Sanghis, to find venues for our programs. She told me, "When it comes time to talk about money, don't say a word! Leave it to me." Very good advice, I assure you.

One angle we are working very hard on is to attract major sponsors in India. In Bangalore, one gentleman sponsored our Kriya visit with a gift of one lakh (100,000 rupees or about $2,300). Our Mumbai Kriya initiation attracted a corporate sponsor (Essar Group) for two lakh. In response to this generous gift we visited their corporate headquarters and made plans for a free workshop for 50 of their department managers, perhaps on our next visit in February. If all goes well, they indicated a willingness to do more. This would be a fantastic opportunity for us because Essar is one of the very largest business conglomerates in India. If we can attract such groups, it will allow us to do programs similar to what we have done already and possibly charitable programs for those who cannot afford our programs now. Sponsors sometimes see us as one way for them to fulfill their sense of social obligation to those less fortunate, a common feature of large Indian businesses.

During the coming year our intention is to visit four major cities outside the NCR: Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune. We'll not return to Chennai and Kolkata with Sangha sponsored programs in '07 but concentrate instead on two new cities where we have hopes of attracting dynamic crowds. However, I'll try to visit Kolkata at my own expense to give support to the small group we started there.

Hyderabad is similar to Bangalore in that it is a booming center of India's hi-tech industry. Such places are like the Silicon Valley in the USA with an educated, mobile, energetic population. Pune is a couple of hours east of Mumbai and less known to us, but it is from there that we have received many invitations and inquiries so we have decided to explore its potential. To each of these four cities we plan four tour visits during the year, culminating with a Kriya Initiation in the fall. If locals wish to arrange and finance additional visits, we will send teachers, ideally Hindi speakers. This will be good training for our Indian ashram members.

In the NCR, we will continue with programs in Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon as we have been doing these last couple of years, but Dhyana and I would like to branch out to at least one additional area in the NCR next year. We'll choose a place where we already have a cluster of kriyabans so that they can form a support staff and possibly form the nucleus of a future meditation group.

As you can see, we have a busy schedule, but this is only one of many energy streams that are flowing here. I'll have to use additional letters to give justice to the others: monastery, guest house, publishing, land search, ashram life, education/schools, Swami's world, our solar business, and many more. Each of us concentrates on one or two areas but pitch in to help with any/all of them when called upon. In the world of outreach, Dhyana, Dharmadas and I have been the primary teachers/organizers but many others help too. Daya Taylor does much of our promotional work. Sadhana Devi, Haridas, Roma, Deborah, and Claudio help with teaching duties. The monks run the book tables and go wherever needed. We are having Indians take on greater responsibility for tour coordination and teaching and we must increase this in the future if we are to reach the huge number of souls we who have interest.
Mumbai leaders: Yogesh, Srinavas & Satish

While I am engaged with tours and teaching, Sadhana Devi has settled into the critical position of paying the bills and keeping track of ashram finances. She sends her greetings and love to you all while I write this letter. I listen to her daily travails with the Indian banking system, vendors wanting payment and the myriad of frustrations associated with life in an economy of "black" money and "white." It is a good thing that she doesn't get ruffled too easily. She is up to her eyebrows in telephone calls and the constant tap-tap-tap on our bedroom door by someone wanting money is starting to drive me crazy. My desk is across from hers in our bedroom until we can both relocate into a space being vacated by the staff of our "Material Success Course." When they move to the basement of the new guesthouse, we'll set up a Sangha Office with Dhyana, Keshava and some of our Indian staff. The move was supposed to happen two months ago, but in India, things take time.

This morning Dharmaraj and Dharmini arrived from America. Hunter and Audie Black come tonight while two or three others from America return home. It's coming and going all the time. If you haven't had a chance to yet visit, please consider it. You can travel elsewhere in India from here or stay and experience life in Gurgaon. We'll put you to work if you like. We have recently leased another house a few blocks from the ashram where Haridas and Roma, along with Tim and Lisa Clark from Sacramento, serve as hosts of a very lovely, multi-storied house with a half dozen guest rooms for our many visitors. The best time of year to come is from October through March. April starts to get warm but isn't too bad. After that, it's HOT. Sadhana Devi and I look forward to seeing you.

While in Mumbai last spring I was shown two very sweet letters Master wrote to a disciple in India who happened to be a relative of the family I was visiting. The family treasures them, as you can imagine. I asked if copies could be made and when we visited last week those who went were given color photocopies of each letter. One has Master's signature and the other doesn't. I scanned the one with the signature and am sending it to you as an attachment to a separate email following this letter. I think you will enjoy it.

One final note. Swamiji just finished his new book on Master's interpretations of the Bible and it should be edited and sent to the printer soon. He is pleased with the result and is a wonderful work. At the same time, his health is very shaky and he is going through a physically difficult period, so please send him your prayers and surround him in light.

That's all for now. Sadhana Devi and I wish you a joyous Christmas and send you our love and good wishes. We'll be thinking of you.

Yours in Master,

PS: Soon it will be one year since Sadhana Devi and I moved to India. This has been made possible by many generous donations from friends on the East and West Coasts. If you would like to participate in our support and to that of the Ananda India Kriya Sangha through me, please send whatever you wish to Larry Rider on the East Coast or Ric Morehouse at Ananda Village. It is much appreciated and very helpful.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Happy Diwali

Dear Friends,

I'm writing this on the morning of Diwali, India's annual "Festival of Lights," the biggest holiday of the year. Think of it as a combination of Fourth of July and Christmas-fireworks, exchange of gifts, decorative lights on homes, and joyous "Happy Diwali" greetings to friends and strangers. Tonight's sky will be alight with fireworks and it will sound like a war zone. For those who like this sort of thing, you can buy sky rockets, bursting shells of all kinds and firecrackers sized like small grenades at the stalls all about town. You'd never see this in "safe and sane" America with its tame sparklers and overly protective culture of safety at all costs. Of course, everything here is made of concrete and unburnable, but I suspect the emergency ward will do a brisk business tonight.

Diwali celebrates Rama and Sita's return to Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile, Sita's abduction by Ravana and Rama's triumph over the demon king. By decree, the roads of the kingdom were strewn with "rows of lights" ("Deepavali" in Sanskrit) to welcome them home. Diwali symbolizes the conquest of evil by good, the ascendance of light in the midst of darkness and, on a deeper level, the return of the soul to its true kingdom in God from its "exile" in the land of the senses." It is one of the half-dozen times during the year we do the Ananda "Festival of Light" because it is absolutely perfect for the occasion. This afternoon's service was so sweet and powerful.

Diwali too is the time to worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, prosperity and abundance. I asked Wayne Palmer, the manager of Ananda's "Wishing Tree" boutique, if stores are open today. He said, "Yes, but no one expects to do any business. Everyone goes home early." I mentioned this to Sangeeta, an Indian devotee living in the ashram who used to own a shop and she said, "Nonsense. Today, all the shopkeepers do Lakshmi Puja and try for maximum business to honor her." I think it is somewhere in between. Now that I think about it, maybe our shop would do better if I told this to Wayne.

Festivals ("melas") are a regular feature of the Hindu calendar but autumn is their "high season." Perhaps it's because October marks the end of summer and the onset of cooler weather. With the monsoon ended, the months of October and November usher in some of the nicest weather in Delhi. Grass is actually green and many trees are in flower. People too are ready to burst into celebration. At the ashram we have to know the festival dates when scheduling but it would be hard not to sense something is afoot because of all the decorations, posters, and activity, not to mention the overflow of shops' wares onto the sidewalks. Like Christmas in America, this is the season for exchanging gifts and shopping.

Holiday dates vary from year to year according to the lunar calendar, but this year's festivities began in early October with Navratri (literally, "Nine-nights"). As the name says, it lasts for nine nights and is a celebration of the Divine Mother. Each night is given to worship of a certain aspect of Divine Mother. Which form receives primary attention depends on the region of India where Navratri is being held. Pujas are offered to Lakshmi, Saraswait, Mumbai Devi, Parvati and in Bengal, Kali is given a special night, but by far the largest focus throughout India is Durga Puja.

Here in DLF colony, the local Bengali community hosts a nine-night celebration at the community center to which everyone is invited. Sadhana Devi, Gyandevi and I went on the last night of Navratri to join hundreds of Indians from the neighborhood. The highlight of the evening was the Durga Puja. Three drummers established a loud, steady rhythm, accompanied by miscellaneous gongs, bells and clanging instruments. It was deafening and the incense was thick. The audience kept rapt attention and surged forward to receive the light when the pujari offered it from his multiple lamps of camphor oil. The consciousness of the ceremony was more rajasic and fun-filled than devotional, but I was much impressed by the concentration and inward focus of the pujari. He was a young man with a clear aura and very devoted to his duties. The puja lasted for about an hour, meaning that a pujari has to be young and fit to do it. My arm sometimes gets tired simply doing the Festival arati at Sunday Service and that only lasts but a few minutes.

During the nine nights of Navratri, performances of the Ramayana are staged as a prelude to the coming of Diwali, and ends with Dusharra on the tenth day. This is when large effigies of Ravana, the demon king, are erected and set afire, symbolizing the conquest of evil by good.

Do you know the story of Ravana? I have always liked it because, although evil in that lifetime, he was supposed to be a reincarnation of a celestial doorkeeper named "Jaya." Jaya and Vijaya guarded the doorway of Lord Vishnu in Vaikunta, his abode. They were cursed by holy sages because they would not let the sages enter. Vishnu had instructed Jaya and Vijaya that he did not wish to be disturbed. He said that he could not revoke the curse but he would give them a choice of being born as either great lovers of Vishnu for many incarnations or as great enemies of Vishnu for only a few. They chose the latter curse because they wanted to get back as quickly as possible to Vishnu's presence. Consequently, they took form as the evil King Ravana and his brother Kumbakarna and were killed (a great blessing) by Lord Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu himself.

In the midst of this year's Navratri, also came the birthday of Mahatma Ghandi. As you can guess, this is a national holiday to honor that heroic leader. To have such a great soul as a national icon, rather than a generalissimo astride a horse, is a mark of the greatness of India. All the newspapers featured articles about the Mahatma and explored his message of non violence, self-reliance, and "satyagraha." Swamiji was invited to a remembrance ceremony at the Ghandhi Smritti (site of his assassination) in downtown Delhi.

On the fourth day of the waning moon in the fall, this year coming right after Dusharra, Karwa Chauth was celebrated. I rather like this observance. It is for married women to fast and pray for the welfare and long life of their husbands. As always, there is a legendary tale but the idea is for ladies to prepare food before sunrise, fast during the day and gather later for a telling of the story, puja (often to Parvati) and to participate in a special ceremony when the moon rises. I'm not sure how much of this is still observed in the traditional fashion because it seems that Karwa Chauth has evolved into something of a Hindu Valentine's Day. Younger men are now encouraged (by the shopkeepers, advertisers and the ladies?) to show appreciation to their wives by the giving of gifts. One common tradition I find eye-catching is the practice of young women to decorate their hands and wrists with designs of henna, sometimes extending way up the arms. Indian women do this on other occasions too and the patterns can be really intricate. One woman I saw coming out of the beauty parlor had her hands in the air to dry with sequins or some other sparkly pieces of glass stuck into the henna. Local salons cater to this trade and seem to do a brisk business. It's really quite fashionable and much better than tattoos because the henna fades away in time.

October has also been a month for pilgrims from the West to pass through Gurgaon and have darshan with Swamiji. Groups from Italy and America have visited and it's been fun to reconnect with friends from Ananda colonies and listen to their impressions. I'm sure many of you will be hearing much more of their adventures when they return. The American group was here a few days ago telling us of their time in Badrinath (in the Himalayas, close to Tibet) where they visited a kriya yogi who lives in an isolated hut outside of town. A man of few possessions, he has a box into which he can latch himself during his winter months of meditation when the snow is heavy and deep. In this way, he can leave his physical body behind, safe from disturbance by animals, and "astrally travel" for months at a time, being with Babaji and doing whatever it is that one does in such states. Try explaining that one to your skeptical relatives. It is also in Badrinath that puja is offered to a large stone with the image of a meditating yogi upon it (with a striking resemblance to Babaji) that Adi ("the First") Shankara pulled from the local river many centuries ago. It is this area of the Himalayas that is said to be special to Babaji.

Swamiji is working daily on his new book of Bible interpretations. Unlike his experience with the Gita when inspiration flowed in a seemly effortless fashion, this work is proving more difficult for him to write. Perhaps because of this or maybe for other reasons, he has been very tired these last many weeks. Yet, he keeps to his regular schedule of writing, appointments and periodic speaking engagements. We try to record these latter events and many of his talks can be heard on the web at

Sadhana Devi and I are doing well since returning to India in September. She has become the ashram bookkeeper, paying the bills and local workmen while trying to keep us out of financial chaos and on the right side of the Indian tax code. She is happy to say that we have finally furnished our room. Up until a week ago it maintained a close resemblance to a concrete bunker but now, with some paint, furniture and rugs from the local shops, it is looking quite homey. A feature of buying furniture in India is that you first visit the shop, see what you like or show the man a photograph of you would like while explaining your wishes, and the fellows make it for you from scratch. Delivery time is a bit iffy, but eventually it shows up in a week or two, smelling of fresh lacquer, and accompanied by a carpenter who assembles it and fixes any defects caused by the rickshaw that transported it. When happy, you pay the shopkeeper and tip the deliveryman.

My duties here are mainly three. I am organizing a "Sangha Office" to serve our growing database of disciples and inquiries, setting up our outreach tours away from Delhi and Gurgaon in 2007, and pitching in where I'm able in response to the physical maintenance challenges of the ashram. You'll be hearing more of the first two duties in future letters, but for now I'll just mention that we plan to do major introductory programs in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune in 2007, culminating in a kriya initiation in November or December next year. We did something similar in 2006 and are now about to do initiations in Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata. If you'd like our schedule for future tours, I'll send it to you, especially if you want to help. While still months away, now is the time to book venues and arrange logistical details.

All of us serving in India send our love and blessings to you. Please know that we think of you often and hope you do the same for us. It is a joy to share Master's work with all of you. The fireworks should start soon and we'll be up on the roof with a 360 degree view wishing you all a Happy Diwali.

Much joy,

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Two Stories

21 May 2006
Dear Friends,
Swami Kriyananda left India a few weeks ago and is now visiting in California. At the same time, more than half of our small community in Gurgaon has also taken this opportunity to return to the United States, some to travel with Swamiji and others to attend to duties "back home". Usually we have 27-28 people living in four houses in our neighborhood but we are now down to thirteen and I leave next week for summer in America. It's kind of quiet but I rather like it for a change.

I'm sure most of you have been brought up to date on Swami's recent activities and his plans for the future so I won't repeat those here. If you haven't, visit the website. Suffice it to say that many ideas are percolating-community, school, monastery, yoga institute, orphanage, elders' home, mandir, alternative energy, outreach and more. Before he left for the States, I heard him jokingly say, "At my age, things need to happen right away or not at all." While he is gone, those of us left behind are actively looking for land and for another neighborhood house to accommodate the additional souls we expect in the fall-Dharmaraj & Dharmini and Durga & Vidura. I'm guessing others will come in Swami's wake and I suspect the monastery will grow too. Just last weekend I met one such likely candidate in Mumbai. And as for land, possibilities keep appearing. Wayne and some Indian friends are looking at 25 acres about 15 kilometers from here this week and there are two or three other possibilities.

Rather than report news you may know, I'll tell you two stories that encapsulate the Indian experience for me.


Story #1 - The Men in the Elevator
Vijay Girard is an old friend from my early days at Ananda who now lives in our monastery. It was he who went with Haridas to establish the first Ananda community in Sacramento in 1978. Reuniting with so many like Vijay, Haridas and others has been one of the joys I've especially welcomed here. Vijay has been with Ananda India for about a year, moving to Gurgaon from Las Vegas.

When Vijay arrived, he was given the assignment of promoting Swami's "Material Success Through Yoga Principles" correspondence course and in that capacity he and a couple of Indian helpers have an office on the ground floor of the ashram from where they make sales calls, arrange workshops and develop study groups based upon the course. From what I gather, it's going pretty well. As manager of this "business", Vijay holds an employment visa rather than the typical tourist visa most of us have. This is a good thing because it means that he doesn't have to leave the country every six months, can have a bank account, gets certain perks of Indian residency, and very importantly, he can have an Indian drivers' license and legally own a motorcycle and/or a car. In Vijay's case, he has one of each.

Actually, I'm rather envious of Vijay and his vehicles. His motorcycle is a brand-new, 150 cc model, made in India and it only cost about $800. A Honda version costs a couple of hundred more and I'm kind of tempted should I ever get an employment visa. As for the car, well, that's another matter and where this story begins.

The thing about a foreigner buying a car in India is that you have to be prepared for the paperwork needed to get legal title and to have it registered. And believe me, paperwork is what India does well. Think Department of Motor Vehicles on a bad day and multiply. Around and around you go, office to office. "No sir, that's not possible. You must first see so and so." At each stop, a small fee is extracted and I seriously think the purpose of it all is to generate small fees to keep an army of bureaucrats employed. The fellow who was supposed to inspect Vijay's car for safety features never even looked at it. He just collected his fee and waved. Fortunately for Vijay, he is a persistent fellow and has a good sense of humor.

A couple of weeks ago we had to do some business with a man who may be the one to revamp our website. After the meeting, Vijay wanted to stop at the Gurgaon "town offices" for the final title papers, so I went with him. We took the elevator to the fifth floor where Vijay disappeared for a half hour into a warren of cubicles while I watched the crowd in the hallway. He came out at last and together we went to a bank of windows to pay his fee. "Hello? Hello?" he intones, trying to catch someone's attention. The sign said it was office hours but no one was there and the curtains were pulled. Vijay, by now an old hand at this, walks around to the back of the office and goes in through the staff entrance to find six guys shooting the breeze, ignoring the waiting crowd. Vijay waves his papers and bothers one guy enough into taking his money and printing a receipt, thus allowing him to disappear back into the cubicles. The six guys put their feet back up and go on with their conversation while the queue outside stews. Ten minutes later Vijay emerges triumphantly with a "temporary" title in his hand. He has to go back in June for the real thing, but no matter. He is really happy because he is beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Now the interesting part. We decide to take the elevator back down to the ground floor, so we push the button, wait for the door to open and get in with five other guys. Just as the door is about to close, one more man gets on board and I soon hear "beep, beep, beep, beep" coming from inside the elevator. I'm wondering, "What's that?" "Beep, beep, beep, beep" and we all stand there waiting for the doors to close. Nothing happens. The beeping continues while Man #8 stands immobile in the front, looking straight ahead. This goes on for 30-40 seconds while Vijay practices his pidgin Hindi on the guys in back. Still the elevator doesn't move. Finally, I figure it out. The elevator is overloaded and #8 knows it too, but he isn't moving. He is a very properly dressed and groomed "babu" who probably works in the building. He stares straight ahead, waiting for someone else to get out even though he was the last on and is closest to the doorway. Pretty soon, everyone else figures out the problem and starts gesticulating for him to get out but he is having none of it. His dignity demands that someone else get off. "Chalo, chalo" (Let's go!) says Vijay, but all we get is "Beep, beep, beep."

This is how matters stand for another minute or two. That's a long time if you think about it. Someone had to get out before the elevator door would close. But who? By this time a crowd has formed in the hallway, watching us and throwing in their two cents worth. Man #8, dignified and aloof, stood his ground while looking straight ahead. I was beginning to think that maybe I should get out and walk down the stairs but I wanted to see what would happen. The guys in the back of the elevator were yelling at #8 while also having an animated discussion amongst themselves.

Finally the solution came. Of the five guys in the back, one was a little older and smaller than the others. In the blink of an eye, the four bigger fellows grabbed the fifth guy and muscled him to the door as #8 moved aside. The big guys threw the smaller guy out. The poor fellow dug in his heals and resisted but the four were too much for him and out he went into the hallway, fuming and gesticulating madly. The beeping stopped, the doors closed, "Babu" continued to look straight ahead and down went the elevator. Silence reigned for two or three seconds while we all looked at one another in wonder. Then, spontaneously, everyone (except Babu) burst into hilarious laughter, as if to say "Wasn't that great?" and "Did you see the look on that guy's face?" It was the verbal equivalent of a Hindi "high-five" all the way down to the ground floor. As we got out, great friends now, the four guys in the back then began chewing out the babu and he yelled right back. I think they were really enjoying this even though it seemed as if a dust-up was brewing as Vijay and I made our out the door, headed to the pizza parlor for a well deserved lunch. Another day at the Gurgaon DMV.

Story #2: Three rupees short
Petty greed bothers me some, I have to admit it, making daily life in India a good test of my patience and non-attachment. You see it all the time--the shopkeepers' momentary hesitation as you are sized up, eyes and voice betraying the mental calculation of another inflated price. On the spot, you must now decide, "Is this really worth haggling over?" Sometimes it is, if for no other reason than principle. Often it isn't worth the time or effort and you walk away feeling fleeced again. In time, we develop strategies. Deal with those shops with which you have developed a relationship and who treat you fairly. Always ask the price before you commit to a purchase. For this advice to be useful, you need to know what the "going" price really is. When the man says "ten rupees," do you know if that is a good price or a bad one? If you know, you can then say, "Ten rupees? That's too much. I have bought the very same thing at Mr. Gupta's shop for only five. Surely you must be mistaken" Of course, it doesn't help at all to be a Westerner because that alone adds a tax of 50%, so if the purchase is significant, the best solution is to bring an Indian friend along with you.

If you deal with vendors, taxi drivers and repairmen regularly, a certain cynicism begins to creep into your consciousness when the subject of price, honesty and merchant tendencies is broached. Cynicism is a disease that gets into us when we don't pay attention or when our hearts begin to close. It is much to be avoided. Life here makes me understand why Swami wrote his course "Material Success Through Yoga Principles" in answer to an Indian doctor's question, "How can one follow dharma and still succeed in life?" Official corruption and petty greed exist in every country, but they are big problems for India from the top levels of government to the local rickshaw driver. Anti-corruption campaigns fill the newspapers and tales of bribery by this official or that abound. Indians themselves acknowledge this as a national challenge blocking their country from smoothly making a transition from an under-developed to a developed economy. As one successful, local businessman warned me, "90% of Indian businesses will cheat you." I know he was exaggerating and I can't accept those statistics, but I sometimes wonder.

With the above in my mind, a couple of weeks ago I walked to Qutab Plaza, our local "mall." It is a maze of hallways that can be quite confusing for a new visitor. I seem to make a fresh discovery whenever I browse the shops and on this particular visit, I was looking in the windows when I spied a small grocery I hadn't noticed before. Stepping inside I thought, "I should buy something from this man now that I'm here." Remembering that a few days earlier I had wanted raisons, I asked if he had some but received a blank look in reply. "Dried grapes" I said. The man's face lit up as he proceeded to find a bag on the shelves. Forty-five rupees was the marked price and I gave him a fifty rupee note, receiving a coin in change. We exchanged pleasantries, I left his shop, made my way across the street and began my walk home.

It was a hot day, well over 100 degrees, and I had put a block and a half behind me when I heard someone crying out, "Sir! Sir! Oh sir!" I turned around and saw the shopkeeper running to catch up. "What in the world," I thought. Panting and in a sweat, he held a five rupee note in his extended hand. "What's this?" I asked. "Sir, I gave you the wrong change and I wanted to catch you before you left." I reached into my pocket and pulled out the coin he had given me in his shop. Sure enough, it was a two rupee coin instead of a five. I hadn't noticed but somehow he had become aware of it. He insisted on making things right so I made the exchange with a warm "thank you." He pronamed and returned to his store while I journeyed home.

Three rupees is not much, maybe seven cents, but it was very important to the shopkeeper that it be returned and the transaction be conducted properly. I thought, "Would an American shopkeeper run a block and a half in the hot sun for a dime to make things right?" Hmmm. It was a good reminder/rebuke to my creeping negativity. If you look for goodness, you will find it. If you expect the opposite, you will find that too. India is a land of unique individuals and a land of extremes--color and taste, sounds and smells, hot and cold, compassion and indifference, greed and generosity. As soon as you think you have it figured out, it surprises you, often in a charming way.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita Launch

Last weekend was intense for all of us living at the Ananda Ashram. The long anticipated "book launch" of Swami Kriyananda's "The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita" finally happened at Siri Fort, one of the largest auditoriums in Delhi. Many dignitaries attended and it was well received, though I saw little of it from backstage where I was taking care of the details of stage management.

On Saturday morning Hari Om taxi service delivered two trucks and a Qualis (that's an SUV) into which went a ton of books, handout material, set decorations and stage furnishings. A Sangha member loaned us a school bus to transport the entire ashram staff on our one hour trip into Delhi. We had rented the hall for the evening with the stipulation that we could enter at 3:00pm. At exactly 2:58, the gates opened and we drove in to begin transformation of a rather stark building into something beautiful. Material was draped, flowers and scrubs positioned, 50 tables arranged, audio/visual equipment tested and put into position, and a stage transformed with furniture, altar, chairs, rugs and two large 10'x16' posters of Master and the Gita book cover. We finished setup at 5:55 and Swami took his seat on stage at 6:00 as Dharmadas, Nirmala and JT began a kirtan.

Of course, almost everyone else was late. The Master of Ceremonies was Shri D.R. Kaarthikayan, the former head of India's version of the FBI. True to his disciplined past, he was punctual and directed us to extend the kirtan until the honored guest, the Chief Minister of Delhi, arrived. At about 6:30 she did, pulling up at the back entrance with an entourage, car lights blazing. Out jumped the security team with submachine guns to guard the doors as Sheila Dikshit took her place on stage to participate in the ceremonial lighting of a ghee lamp.

Something we Westerners learned while organizing this event is that India has perfected the art of "Book Launch." Here it is a ceremony that follows a distinct pattern and protocol. Books are presented in a certain order, speakers are chosen carefully, and protocol is very, very important. In America, Swami Kriyananda's speech would be the centerpiece of the evening. Here, not so. The evening was about honoring Swami and while others spoke. And speak they did, much too long. It was soon clear that we were far behind schedule so Mr. Kaarhikayan made impromptu adjustments to allow the Chief Minister to speak early (I couldn't hear a word but you can at the website), after which she promptly left, security team in tow. After her came a parade of speakers, each speaking longer than they should, leaving Swamiji (by far the most magnetic speaker of all, but by protocol relegated to last) with scant time. Nevertheless, what he lacked in time, he made up for with power, bringing a highly successful evening to a close with a blessing and a prayer.

With the program over, the dismantling of the sets and lobby displays began. We reloaded our trucks, hopped on the bus and headed home to again unload, meditate and collapse into bed. For me, the next day was one of rest but for others, it was off to the local mall to host a book-signing event with Swamiji. I was too tired to go and skipped it.

With the official launch, the Gita will be in most major bookstores in India, we hope leading to a positive response through inquiries and program attendance. We have two major weekend events later this month and in May I travel to Calcutta and Bombey and expect those to be well received, although it is still too early for those cities to be much affected by the events here.

Later this week Swami and many others will leave India for the United States and our hectic pace will soon slow with the onset of the summer hot season. The temperature is rising and this is the time of year when the British used to head for the hills. You have probably heard that old saying about how being in the sun here is only "for mad dogs and Englishmen." While Swami is away, Sadhana Devi and I have been asked to housesit for him, gratefully doing so while enjoying the air conditioners.

Jaya and Sadhana Devi's Activities
As the weeks have passed, Sadhana Devi's and my role has started to come into focus. I'm officially referred to as the Director of Outreach for Ananda Sangha India. Last fall Dharmadas was inspired to begin lecture campaigns in four major Indian cities-Calcutta, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Before then, most of our efforts had been confined to the Delhi region, getting established and helping Swami reach India through television and the media. In each of the cities Dharmadas visited he received a very enthusiastic response from hundreds of eager students, but because we have been short handed with staff and resources, we couldn't follow-up properly. In addition, although these programs were well received, they were not financially self supporting.

My assignment has been to design programs with Dhyana, Director of the Kriya Sangha, to build upon what was started by Dharmadas, expand upon it, develop follow-up programs to train students for Kriya Initiation and to support them afterwards. In a nutshell, you might say we are recreating the Village Ananda Sangha Office in India. For travel purposes, I have taken responsibility for Calcutta and Mumbai while Dhyana has Chennai and Bangalore. For each of these cities we have scheduled quarterly visits and additional programs. The beginners' weekends draw the largest crowds and need the most staff support; the advanced programs less. For example, I will travel alone to Calcutta in May for a weekend of classes. The following weekend, I will do the same in Mumbai with Sadhana Devi accompanying me. In the fall we will do a major beginners' weekend and will need to take a team of four to six. Then in November and December, we will have Kriya Initiations for all who are ready.

My challenge is to reach out to people in other parts of India in a way that is financially self-supporting. In practical terms, this means we must attract supporters in the local cities to help us with venues, lodging, transportation, advertising and all the many things needed to build a spiritual work. With their help we can keep the costs down. In time, these outreach programs should pay for themselves but in the development phase, Dhyana and I make up the deficit from the support funds many of you are sending to us in India.

Sadhana Devi's task is more complex than mine. She is supposed to make sense of the bookkeeping world for the multiple ventures happening here-publishing, tours, Material Success department, ashram income/expense, outreach, major events, etc. It is all a mystery to me how things are kept straight, and from what I hear, it is a mystery to everyone else too. She has set up shop on the upper floor of the ashram and has plunged in. She is the type who would much rather have too much to do than too little and her wishes are being fulfilled.

Up to now, my impression is that there has been a general lack of clarity by those in charge of our financial status from day to day. We operate on a system of "how much is left in the checkbook." One reason for this is that it takes 3-6 months to receive a financial report from our Indian accountants. That's not so good. With Sadhana Devi's help, the hope is for each project manager to have a clear idea of where they financially stand, and for Dharmadas and Nirmala to have a clear overview of all the finances. Little by little, she is bringing order to our financial world.

Random Thoughts
Now that I've lived here for a couple of months, I've begun to have a better understanding of India and the obstacles it faces and the obstacles faced by Westerners adapting to its culture. I'd like to share a few observations in this and future letters. I'll start with some physical realities.

I was speaking with Dana Anderson, the artist who painted the cover design of The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita about her impressions of India. She is visiting and may move here in the fall. She commented that living here is far different than coming on a pilgrimage. One must deal with the hard realities of life in India. I agreed whole-heartedly. One of those realities is the constant presence of sickness and the need to be careful about what one eats and drinks. This becomes real bothersome after awhile. Is the glass clean? How was that cooked? Is the tea boiled? I suppose sooner or later one's stomach gets accustomed to the local bacteria but in the short time I've been here, four people in the ashram have been in the hospital and many others have been laid up for a day or two, mostly with intestinal problems that lead to dehydration. But besides these common cases of "Delhi-belly" there is also the threat of less common, but very real, diseases such as typhoid (our cook came down with this not too long ago), dengue fever (one of Master's descendants had this when I visited Calcutta last month), malaria (more prevalent south of Delhi), and hepatitis. Needless to say, we have all been vaccinated for more things than I can count.

As a traveler, I find myself as a dinner guest in Indian homes or being taken to local restaurants (hot, hot food-wow). I don't want to insulate myself from the local culture and would rather tempt illness than remain a constant outsider. My philosophy has been to use common sense, take Darolac (positive intestinal bacteria), drink lots of electrolytes with filtered water and pray for the best. That said, it is still a big bother and has made me appreciate how we don't have to think of these things so much in America.

India is frequently, and I think accurately, criticized for its lack of modern infrastructure. It isn't hard to make this observation. Perhaps the most important lack in my mind is the deficiency of a steady, dependable supply of clean, potable water. Without this basic need fulfilled, sanitation is severely compromised and disease flourishes. The Ananda Ashram is located in Gurgaon, a rather modern suburb/satellite city of Delhi. Our neighborhood is, by Indian standards, upper-middle class and quite nice. Yet, even in a nice section of town, city water is available only 1.5 hours each day, one hour in the morning and a half hour in the late afternoon. To deal with this, each home will typically have an underground, concrete cistern that fills when the water is flowing and from which water is pumped to tanks on the roof to supply the house during the rest of the day. It is said that the water coming from the city is treated but if you let it sit in a bucket for one day, it smells really bad. The city pipes leak and "articles" come down the line into our tanks. Once in the cistern and on the roof, the water is compromised further and ultimately undrinkable. Even rinsing dishes with it is a risk. If this is so in Gurgaon, you can imagine the situation in the rest of Delhi.

Why is there not more water? For one reason, the supply is limited. My understanding is that most of the local water supply comes from the Yamuna River, highly polluted and over taxed by the needs of regions further up-stream. The second reason is that India as a whole, and Delhi in particular, is short of electrical power at a time when its economy and population is growing rapidly. I've heard shortfall figures of 10%-15%. Consequently, there are daily, rolling blackouts that affect homes and, more importantly, the pumps and substations of the water distribution network, especially in the summer hot season when people turn on the air conditioning and water is more needed. The third reason is that the water distribution system is old, undersized, and in need of major repair at a time when the country has many, many other pressing needs. Indeed, the country is growing so fast and furiously that all around the outskirts of Delhi, it looks like a construction zone with high-rises, homes, malls, highways, sewage lines, and God knows what else going up and under non-stop. I think it not an exaggeration to say that at least one million people are employed in construction in Delhi and the surrounding suburbs. The same is happening in the other major cities too and the country can't keep up. Think of this when you read stories in the newspapers about how India is trying to find ways to increase its supply of electricity through nuclear power, dams or other means. It is easy to say India should find alternate solutions but I sympathize with the countries plight and find it hard to criticize too much.

I have more to share on other topics but I'll leave those for the future. In the meantime, we are blessed to be here serving Master's work in his homeland. Sadhana Devi and I keep you all in our hearts and hope to see many of you this summer when we are in America. I arrive back in late May and will accompany our East Coast pilgrims to the Village for the Festival of the Arts in June. Sadhana Devi will remain in India care-taking our work here until people begin to return in late June. She'll then join me in Rhode Island.

Many blessing to all of you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Happy Holi

Dear Ananda Friends,

This morning as I was walking from the ashram to the local mall, I heard something zoom by my head. “What was that?” I looked up to see where it came from and on a balcony above was a little girl smiling gleefully. “Happy Holi,” she cried. The missile was a small balloon of colored water. Down the road I could see a group of boys eagerly awaiting me, packets of colored powder in hand. I made a quick about-face to take an alternate route and came upon another group. I gave them too the slip but concluded I wasn’t going to make it to the mall unscathed and decided to head back home, only to be ambushed by two of our young Indian men inside the ashram gate. In case you are wondering, today is the national holiday of Holi, a time to throw brightly colored powers and water on each other. I wish I could tell you its significance and the story behind it but the best I can say is that it has something to do with Prahlad, his mother, a demon and God saving him. Other than that, it’s a jumble that even the locals sometimes have a hard time explaining. All are fair game to be smeared, and as you can imagine, the kids love it. It’s very bad form to be grumpy, so if you go out onto the street, expect to come back with your head and upper body looking like a Grateful Dead tee shirt.

I’ve been in India for three weeks but it feels like three months. My first week was simply one of landing and adjusting to a new home. I had to buy appropriate clothes, initiate cell phone service, learn how to navigate the rickshaws and taxis, explore the local shops and determine what my duties would be. I had a chance to ask Swami Kriyananda what he foresaw for me in India and he simply said one word, “Teaching.”

I had been here two days when I was asked to conduct the public, Saturday satsang held each week at the ashram and soon after was assigned teaching duties at the three-day Mahasamadhi Celebration. Swami Kriyananda spoke each day and we followed up in the afternoons with workshops and classes. About 200 came to the event held at our neighborhood community center in Gurgaon. Swami spoke strongly and with inspiration about his recently completed commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita. Copies will soon be in the bookstores and in a couple of weeks a big public event is planned in downtown Delhi to celebrate its release. A number of dignitaries are scheduled to attend, one of whom is the former head of India’s version of the FBI. He came to visit Swami a couple of weeks ago and arrived with a full complement of bodyguards and chase cars. He was actually a very sweet man.

Last weekend, Dharmadas and I flew to Kolkata for a weekend program and were joined there by Koral and Suzanne Ilgun from Ananda Village who served as support staff. This was but one in a series of programs that we are presenting in cities across India and consists of a Friday discourse, two four-hour workshops Saturday and again on Sunday. We attracted 165 to the free discourse and 85 to Saturday’s workshops and 75 to Sunday’s, a big increase over the numbers in New England. This is half of what we got in Bangalore and what we expect in Mumbai in two weeks. This weekend the program is in Delhi.

Kolkata is an older, more conservative city than the booming metropolis’s of the “new” India. It has an educated population but is less prosperous than elsewhere, somewhat decayed, but very vital and lively. Most who came had read the Autobiography of a Yogi. While in Kolkata, we had a chance to deliver a copy of the new Gita to Master’s family and enjoyed the blessings of that home.

It is amazing to see how positive people are toward the teachings we are presenting. Many told us that we are a breath of fresh air compared to the many teachers who are dry and doctrinaire. As you know, Ananda teachers are trained to speak without prepared notes, a far cry from the typical Indian lecturer who simply recites written speeches. Audiences love our fresh approach, the “scientific” explanations and our Western practicality. Plus, they like the energization exercises, something that SRF-YSS teaches here rarely. As opposed to America, there is a natural understanding of the guru-discipleship relationship and its importance. Indeed, it is humbling for us Americans to have members of the audience come up after a class or lecture to touch our feet. And, like everywhere in India, people like to ask complicated and abstruse questions, enough to keep any teacher on his toes.

Ananda’s work in India is growing by leaps and bounds and it is difficult to say where this is all leading. From what I can see, we have merely scratched the surface of a great potential to reach many, many souls. So far we have organized speaking tours to less than a half dozen major cities, but there might be at least twenty or thirty cities here with over a million people. Each lecture tour requires follow-up programs months later and then, as a core of disciples grows, a kriya initiation some months after that. With the staff we have now, we can only reach a small fraction of the numbers that are being attracted through Swami’s daily television program, books, website and advertising.

It looks like one of my assignments here will be to travel to present workshops and programs, and then to do follow-up and support for the people who come. In time, we hope this will build a core of strong disciples in each city to help us coordinate future events. Since we do not have funds to pay for travel to all locations, we must pick and choose carefully. Your donations are allowing me to pay these outreach travel costs because Ananda India cannot. That is the reality of life here. We donate our income in order to serve. For now, without outside help, this ministry would not be able to happen. Although the programs we present are well attended, for now they usually do not generate enough income to cover costs. There are two main reasons for this. The economic realities for the typical Indian attendee requires us to keep our fees very low compared to American standards, and by tradition, spiritual functions are often presented here free. Unfortunately, donations are still very small. The Mahasamadhi Celebration was presented on a donation basis (meals included) for Indian attendees but Americans and Europeans were asked to pay an entrance fee. That is just the reality we must deal with. In time, as students become committed to this work, I think financial support will follow, especially as India’s booming economy improves.

Soon after my arrival, a promising opportunity was presented to us. We were offered a parcel of land in the countryside outside of Delhi by a village. Apparently the village would like us to have some of this land and is willing to sell us more at a very fair price in exchange for us doing something positive for the development of the village. Swami’s thought is to create a Yoga Institute and an Ananda community on the property with a monastery close by. As part of this, perhaps we could train teachers and create a school for the village. It will take many months to find out if this plan and property actually materializes, but even if it doesn’t pan out, we all feel confident that something else very much like it will. Swami has been saying that he has four projects he would like, in his lifetime, to see accomplished by Ananda in India.

1. A Yoga Institute of Higher Education

2. An Ananda Community

3. A monastery

4. A temple of all religions

Sadhana Devi arrives tonight and we’ll soon be settled in our room at the ashram. I am not sure what her duties are to be but there is no end to the things that need doing. Probably she will become involved with the bookkeeping, a real jumble I am told. It will take her a few weeks simply to get adjusted to a very different culture. At first I felt very much like an “outsider” here but as the weeks go by and I have begun to meet people, it is slowly becoming my home and I look forward to sharing it with all of you.

In closing, I want to thank all of you who have made it possible for Sadhana Devi and me to serve in India through your donations and loving support. We think of you often and hope you all have an opportunity to come and experience India and what Ananda is doing here. We’ll be in Rhode Island from late May through mid-September with a short visit to Ananda Village for the Festival of the Arts in June. We hope to see many of you then.

Happy Holi to all


Monday, February 20, 2006

Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God

I've heard it said that India is a land of spirituality where one might realize God more quickly. Certainly the spiritual quest is a living reality here, acknowledged and encouraged. As Master said in his poem My India, "Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God." Even though often buried beneath a thick layer of debris and chaos, I do think this is true. If one is willing to look and feel closely, there is a subtle sense of uniqueness beneath the obvious disarray that I find highly intriguing but difficult to define. What is spirituality anyway? I don't mean to romanticize India because there is a lot here to dislike. It is obvious and hard to not notice, but there is also a special "something" about the place. Maybe it is because so many saints have walked this land, or perhaps it is because God is so interwoven into the cultural landscape. I haven't come close to understanding this but I think about it daily. Why is it that I meditate better here and feel more devotion even though the place drives me crazy every day? Negative feelings bubble up yet I sense these as byproducts of something stirring within. To locals I say when asked how I like it here, "India is a land of extremes." Perhaps its true that spiritual growth is accelerated in such environments simply because life's challenges force us to resolve them within.

With the passing months has come a growing compassion for the plight of the ordinary Indian people, most of whom I find very, very sweet. They work so hard to create a better life against great obstacles and are touchingly proud of their country. Last week I was in Mumbai and struck up a conversation with a waiter in the restaurant of my hotel. He had a rather dour demeanor and I wanted to break the ice. He asked, rather formally, how I liked India (a very common question) and I gave back many compliments. Immediately he smiled and said "thank you," swelling with pride as if I had complimented him personally. After that, I had a difficult time finishing my meal, he was so eager to talk and share his impressions. Like many of these casual conversations, he eventually began to lament the many failings of India compared to America and how India could improve. Locals too suffer from the very same frustrations of daily life as experienced by those of us from the West. Sometimes I think it bugs them even more than it does me that the streets are dirty, government is corrupt, and nothing seems to function properly because the Indian knows the great potential of this country and of the people who live here.

Indian society is centered around the extended family. It is common and expected for multiple generations to live together. With no social security, it becomes the responsibility of children to tend to the needs of elders and for siblings and cousins to pool resources in an extended network of family relationships. In marked contrast to this tight web of family connectedness is a low sense of civic responsibility for the public domain. What happens beyond one's doorstep is likely to be someone else's problem. Perhaps this is because people feel little ability to effectively influence their surroundings or maybe it's simply a manifestation of the "us four and no more" consciousness, or maybe it's just training. It is drummed into Americans from kindergarten through adulthood to "stand in line," "wait your turn," "don't push and grab," that "everyone gets his/her turn," that we must "be fair," "share", and cooperate. India, by contrast is a free-for-all.

Last week I went into the telephone office to straighten out a small problem. To expedite service, this office wisely has each person take a numbered ticket, serving each in turn. Without this feature, there would be chaos. On the wall, prominently displayed, is a video monitor of all the numbers yet to be called. Periodically, a computer generated voice would say, "Now serving number 35 (or whatever) at window A (or B, or C)." I was number 45 with many more above that. What is the common thing to do in such a situation? You take a seat and patiently wait your turn, but what were half of the waiting customers doing? They were jostling their way to the front of the crowd gathered around each window, waving their tickets in hope of being served next, even though their numbers didn't warrant it. This might be a logical thing to do if the service personnel actually responded to such pleas but the petitioners were being totally ignored again and again and again, as each new number was called. The crowd's behavior made no sense, as there was no hope for anyone to jump the queue. Yet they persisted, relentlessly. When my number was finally called after about 20 minutes, I elbowed my way through the crowd of 50's on the left and 60's on my right to reach the counter. I really, really wanted to say, "Relax! Calm down. Have a seat. Your turn will come," but of course I didn't.

I see variations of such scenes often. Why so much anxiety? Maybe it's the result of too many people scrambling for limited resources. Many of those in the office were villagers, perhaps unaccustomed to the ways of the city, so perhaps it is a matter of education. Whatever the cause, I've come to realize that most Indians live under conditions of very high stress-economics, family expectations, over-crowding, environmental obstacles, social constraints, taboos, peer pressure, and the daily hassle of a physical world that doesn't work very well-and it takes its toll on their health. In the face of such things, one can succumb to despair or rise to greater heights. Fortunately for India, the cultural legacy cultivates the latter course, encouraging aspiration to higher values. People become angry here as they do elsewhere, maybe even more so, but I sense that Indians are likely to recognize this as not a good thing and regret it. On some level, they know better because their Vedic heritage teaches that such expressions are not proper or in accordance with right dharma.

As I've come to know India better, I've taken a sharper notice of the diversity of its people: dozens of languages, multiple religions, uncounted numbers of sects, castes, tribes and ethnic groups. Not only do Westerners feel as if they are foreigners, Indians feel the same way. Leaving their villages for the bright lights of Delhi is an entry into another world. I had one educated man tell me that he felt totally "at sea" when he went into the countryside outside of the city because it was so strange for him there and so "foreign."

Some of you know that as a college student, I majored in anthropology. What I learned then was that "culture matters." It influences us more than we know, shaping our view of life and how we experience it. I've come to suspect that culture wires our malleable brains in ways that differ from one culture to the next. We are not all seeing the same "movie." We can be in related, but very separate, universes from the person with whom we are dealing. It's not just language. It is something more fundamental which I find fascinating. I think this goes to the heart of something that many of us notice here, and that Swami Kriyananda has commented upon too. Indians tend to more frequently have "phenomenal" and "other-worldly" spiritual experiences compared to people in the West.

As a "Kriyacharya," I hear many stories that cause me to simply shake my head in amazement. Kundalini, visions, spiraling currents, out-of-body experiences, and ecstatic states are regular fare. I don't mean to say that these are universal or even common, but I can almost guarantee that someone in every class will come afterward to ask for help with something like this. At first I suspected overactive imaginations but I was wrong. One lady was distressed after kriya initiation because she was experiencing a loss of body awareness while teaching her classroom of children. The bliss she was feeling was interfering with her duties. The top of her head was very warm to touch and actually emanated an inner vibration. There have been many such accounts, all sincere. A woman from South India spoke of a local goddess who regularly appeared while she practiced kriya. Another gentleman wanted to know how to control the chakra awakening he was experiencing, described it in great detail. It has made me wonder, "Why don't Westerners seem to have these experiences so frequently?" I think the answer is culture.

Westerners are trained to be skeptical by nature and to look for material, physical and tangible causes to phenomena, whereas in India the veil between the material and astral planes is thinner. I don't like to generalize like this but I am coming to agree with others who have said that the Indian psyche is primed for mysticism whereas the Western mind is primed for practical efficiency, due to the influence of culture and training. But interestingly, if you take an Indian and put him in America or a Westernized subculture within India, he becomes highly practical and efficient within a short order, often rising to the top of his field. I'm hoping the same can be said, in reverse, for us practical Westerners who now find ourselves in mystical India.

In my last letter I mentioned that the focus of my service here is "teaching/outreach" and that we would begin a series of tours in 2007. I'd like to let you know these are going. In January we did weekend workshops, free lectures and satsangs in Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore and Mumbai. We are now in a pause while we organize the Mahasamadhi and Kriyaban weekends planned for early March. Immediately after, we do programs to Hyderabad, Pune, Calcutta, Noida, and Delhi. After that, we begin the rotation again, returning to every location once each quarter, sometimes doing two cities on one weekend when staff is available.

I had hoped to attract the same numbers this year as last, while at the same time reducing our advertising costs in order to financially break even. You can guess the result-half the advertising equals half the attendance. This is our dilemma. How do we reach new people with our message and so that they will come? Newspapers seem to be the most reliable route but the cost is excessive. We are trying to attract other forms of publicity such as radio and TV interviews but have not yet succeeded as we might. Knowing that it takes so much to attract a new student, we are trying to do better this year in retaining those who do come. Our follow-up efforts last year were not organized and many who came melted away because of our failure to keep in contact but I think we are going to do much better this year. Sadhana Devi and I are putting together a 6-week series of supplemental "lessons" to email each week to everyone who takes our Meditation and Energization workshops. We are also doing a better job of advertising/promoting our return visits to offer the next level of workshops for those who came the first time. To save on costs, we are doing more multiple programs in distant cities and simultaneous classes (Example: Dhyana in one hall, Jaya in another.) on the same day. This allows us to advertise more programs with the same amount of advertising space in the newspapers, and overall, make us more efficient.

On a positive note, we now have good groups developing in some cities where we conducted programs last year. Local kriyabans are taking on a greater share of organizational responsibility for programs, making it possible for us to reduce our traveling staff. This is especially so in Mumbai and I would not be surprised to see a self-sustaining center develop there within the next year, and maybe also in Delhi where Haridas and Roma teach weekly. Up to now, our only teaching center away from Gurgaon has been in Noida, on the other side of Delhi. We have good support in Bangalore but the development of a group there is still a behind Mumbai. I continue to visit Calcutta on my own from time to time to give support to a small group of dedicated kriyabans but it will be awhile before a group coalesces there.

From what I've written, you might have the impression that most of the ashram is involved in these outreach efforts but that is not the case. In a way this is true because it takes everyone's effort to make these programs possible, but day to day, there are actually only a few of us whose primary duty is teaching. Dhyana, Dharmadas and I have assumed the majority of the teaching duties on the tours. Haridas and Roma teach in Delhi and Wayne and Elizabeth Palmer are responsible for Noida. Sadhana Devi and I teach most of the meditation/raja yoga/discipleship classes in Gurgaon but because I travel so often, Sadhana Devi has found herself, more and more, conducting these by herself.

What does everyone else do? Each does a little of everything, pitching in where needed. In very broad strokes, here is a summary:
" Swami's staff: Lakshman (secretary), Miriam (nurse and secretary), Lila (cooking and house management)
" Overall Directors: Dharmadas and Nirmala
" Ashram House Managers: Roma and Haridas
" Boutique at Metropolitan Mall: Wayne and Elizabeth, Shivani (India disciple), Bijay (Indian disciple)
" Clothing business: Cecilia
" Tours: Daya and Keshava
" Master's Flower Essences: Deborah and Claudio
" Maintenance and Projects: Tim Clark, Vivek, Sudesh
" Publications, design, Books: Devendra, Zack, RamMurti, Sita, Robi, Lisa, Stephen Phillips, Pat K.
" Sangha House Management: Sita, Sangeeta
" Promotion/Advertising: Daya
" Sangha Office: Jaya, Dhyana, Keshava, Sadhana Devi, volunteers, Sangeeta
" Web: Dharmaraj, Pat Kirby
" Teaching and satsangs: Dharmadas, Nirmala, Dhyana, Jaya, Haridas, Roma, Wayne, Deborah, Sadhana Devi
" Hatha yoga classes all over: Claudio
" Answer phones: Pat Kirby and volunteers
" Material Success Course: Vijay, Haridas, Dharmaraj, Dharmini, Sangeeta
" Harmony in the Workplace project: Elizabeth and Stuti
" Special Projects and Land Acquisition: Durga and Vidura
" Financial Management: Sadhana Devi, Nirmala, others
" Ananda Solar: Amol (wife is Arati + kids Tonya and Yash from the UK), Kent White, Dharana and Jemal
" Database: Steve Berry
" This, that and the other thing: Narayani

As you see there are lots of things to talk about and report. I'll try to touch on some of these in my next letter. Each has a story to tell.

Much joy to everyone.