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