An Experience Share

I can share my few recollections of personal experiences of Baba Muktananda.

In March 1981 I took a meditation class at the counseling and outreach center at my university; this was sophomore year. It was offered by Siddha Yoga devotees who lived nearby and went to programs at the Oakland Ashram. After the class was over, many voices told me to go to Santa Monica where Baba was having public programs in the afternoons. I drove down with some friends and went to two afternoon programs on a weekend that spring.

Orange and blue, orange and blue. He wore orange, and the light in the air was blue. We waited, the anticipation built, and he made his entrance, walking as I read later the way he described his own guru, with the stride of an elephant, very erect, very relaxed. Silks, ash on the forehead, no uncertainty. He put his feet up on the chair in his lotus or sukhasana so effortlessly, he was very comfortable. He spoke and I cannot remember what he said, I just went into some kind of trance state, like at a great concert, where the flow just takes me and I have no memory of time, place, or details during that swooning time. His words always had that quality of communicating not just the ideas but the state, and taking me to that blissful, amazing, flow state of pure consciousness.

8 months later I arrived in Ganeshpuri, India, at Shree Gurudev Ashram. After we settled in, he met the busload of us in a smaller 2nd-floor meeting room, and he welcomed us warmly and briefly, and I remember him asking, Does anyone have any questions? Somehow none of us did. It was enough to be there.

He gave several talks during the four months I was there. Malti and her brother were occasionally to be seen, for example him, drumming at the dancing saptahs on the marble-floored cool pavilions into the night, or with great inward attention and focus, her, translating for him at his talks and during the intensives, . At one talk Baba said, "I will now in three words summarize for you all of the Vedas: All is One." and just continued speaking, but I forced myself to stop being in the flow and to carefully memorize those words.

One day I went up in darshan and said I must return to go to school now, what should I study? After Noni's translations, the answer came back, "Study what interests you", which at the time I felt was no answer, since nothing particular interested me, but which as my life has evolved since then, I have come to understand that those words formed the plan of my life, of 10 years of college, graduate school, and a postdoc, of exploring business and then 10 more years of running my own very exploratory company, Sprex, and even now in the new career I've embarked on. I am actually so blessed to be able to look at my life and see it as a study and exploration of what has interested me, throughout my life. I take that as a personal gift from Baba Muktananda because that's what he told me to do.

Much of my time in the ashram was devoted to kitchen work, or seva. I chopped a lot of vegetables, often many hours a day, and I found it deeply engaging. One day Baba swept into the kitchen with a group of people, saw us pulling the strings off of piles of green beans. It was probably just the right time because we were slow and dragging a little, grinding away on this menial task in the late Indian spring in a hot kitchen. Well, he stepped right in and started stringing beans with us. Actually, we stopped and watched. Here's what I learned from his example, in few seconds of teaching. The way to string green beans is: fast, clean, and with a good attitude. I have tried to emulate his example in the work that has come my way in my life.

One night I was meditating in the meditation room which is now where he is buried. I was sitting against the wall on a deerskin on top of a cotton mat, as there were several in that room, along with many others in the room meditating after dinner and before bed. Suddenly a door opened that had never opened before, and in walked Baba, walking around the room. When he got to me, he put his hand on my head for a few seconds. I concentrated intensely, and what I got from the experience was a profound sense of reality. He was completely real. I felt everything about his hand on top of my head, the shape, the warmth, the weight, and I just saw how real he was. Everyone talks about lights and spiritual, out of body, experiences, and everything supernatural, which have never been my experience, but in my experience he was really in my world, the real world, and he was completely absolutely real.

Later I learned in the Guru Gita #37 it says "yasya sthitya satyam idam", or "it is the steadiness of that guru from which arises the truth and permanance of this reality", and this has been a contemplation for me. While an external reality in the world may exist, the inner reality is the basis of our experience of everything including the external world, and the qualities of truth or permanence which we can feel in our contact with true and real things, whether inner or outer, that quality of truth arises from the Guru principle itself. So that's a point to ponder for you.

Baba used to give darshan, meet visitors, on a seat, cushions against the wall on a sort of a long wide shelf, outside his apartment, and the cool marble courtyard became a meditation room. Sometimes there would be visitors speaking with him, sometimes a darshan line, sometimes nothing and noone, just everyone sitting quietly. Concentrate now on just being here, now is a very special time. Nothing is happening, but we are all here learning about how to be, and sharing this radiant example of how to be, sitting himself quietly before us.

Baba had a deep deep calm about him. I'm sure he was doing japa of Om Namah Shivaya or one of the other Siddha Yoga mantras, all the time. He was quite old, and this was only a few months before he left his body, so he was a little bit being taken care of, a little hidden. And the crowds were enormous, truly. While the stories of earlier years, the early 1970's, for example, are of Baba carrying around Chchhota Baba, essentially a billy club, and he made no bones of getting people's attention on the discipline of the ashram. But by my time, there were just too many people for that kind of personal attention, and maybe he was older, perhaps himself going with the flow a little more.

There were cliques at the ashram. There was a group of teenage girls who seemed to think they were the chosen ones, with jasmine garlands in their carefully curled hairdos, parading about in their fancy saris, chatty, gossiping, and condescending and superior in their carriage. I didn't like them much, but they weren't in my face either. There was a chess-playing clique, in rooms that I came to share near the end of my time. Not everybody could focus on sadhana all day long, and they wanted to keep their minds busy with something. I had the general feeling that they were too close to Baba and too much the old-timers. And I had the feeling of compassion for them for not taking the opportunity.

In his talks Baba made it very clear and emphasized the point that new people who come with sincere interest and focus their energy on sadhana are closer to him than those who are standing close, or than old-timers that are enjoying their position and their special old-timer identity rather than using the opportunity of this moment, now, to again seek the Self and again genuinely offer service anew and again find the freshness of inner surrender. So this lesson made me feel more connected with him from my place in the crowd, and the very impersonality of it made me imbibe the importance of the life lesson in what he said. So I've tried to always approach things, even things I've done a lot before, with that new and humble attitude.

Lunch at the ashram was a large, quiet and organized affair. Everyone sat on rolled out mats in rows on the floor. This pavilion had a big fan blowing the heat out from the gable peak of the roof. Nobody spoke, much. Once a fellow sat next to me who said the food was So Spicy! he almost couldn't stand it, to which I silently replied in thought, "Hmm, indeed around this time of day I've noticed my face gets kind of warm, hmm. Quite true." The kitchen boys would walk down the aisles each with a ladle and a pot of one thing, and ladle all the plates with rice, dal, bajji (a vegetable stew), yogurt, or a few chapatis. The food was simple, but yummy, and very much of the land there and of the season. You'd kind of wave your hand when you had enough rice and they would move to the next person. Some people who may have been poor people, Indians on a visit, would accept an enormous pile of rice. Maybe that was their only meal for a long time. Everybody was quiet and disciplined. Eating was a form of yoga, eat with discipline, chew your bites thoroughly, don't distract your companions with a lot of talk from their inner experience. Two or three times Baba came out from his apartment, which has a door directly into the lunch pavilion, and he would sit on the steps in the relative darkness of that corner. I remember he might have his teeth out, and seemed to be both very comfortable with us all there, and also not speaking to the people except perhaps the cooks on business. He was just there, with us, not trying to be special. It is a warm memory to me of how human a person he was.

I remember the pattabhishek, the anointing of Gurumayi and her now resigned brother as gurus. Baba said he had the ability to make a person, there before the crowd, into an enlightened saint. I don't know if you have seen pictures of Gurumayi at that time, wearing white, fresh-shaved head, enormous eyes, with a gold necklace of giant rudraksha beads. I had the sense of her that she was so inward in her experience that she could have been experiencing her own death. I did have the sense of utter personal sacrifice on her part. For me surrender has become an experience of reliable joy and bliss, but for a 29 year old woman who could have any kind of life she wanted, to make this all-encompassing commitment to Baba to be his successor, to wear his shoes, to have the life of the position he gave her rather than anything personal or individualistic or selfish, to see that act consummated in her entry into the mandap (pavilion) behind Baba, in his worship of her, with flowers and sandalwood paste and an arati of waving lights, his washing her feet, supported and surrounded by a crowd of Brahmins on a consecrated ground for holy sacrifice, under a high white pavilion surrounded by many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of well-wishers and witnesses, with even the blessed omen of an unseasonal intense rain shower. Her sacrifice to him was truly great; I myself would never be able to make that sacrifice until after a lifetime's worth of personal adventure. I could feel the burning in her soul of that great great sacrifice and commitment, and I could also see the absoluteness of the calm and peace and oneness that with Baba's hands on her head too he guided her to. They had been in silence for days beforehand, and kept a low profile afterwards also. Their experience was truly inward focussed, and the ashram and Baba supported them in that. As the Guru Gita (#127) says, the land where the guru resides becomes a bucket of blessings.

Baba's presence was always a very special treat. As you can imagine, a Guru oriented religion or institution or yoga philosophy place might get a lot of emphasis on the person of the person who serves as the Guru. So yes there were some cult-like dynamics having to do with people wondering what their value was based on whether the Guru did or didn't take notice of them on their walk through the ashram that day. And the focus of this particular Teacher on the learning of the Students through yoga, through meditation and seva and quiet inner contemplation, which are mostly not social pursuits, was such a strong influence on the community there that it made it somewhat strange socially because people were so into their own thing that there wasn't a strong social consensus of what is normal and how to properly interact with each other. I would say there were three general tendencies which people might take or even switch between. Socially aware but yogically focussed people generally kept to themselves but treated others with consideration and deference, and if they were assigned a role of authority, used it lightly and with genuineness. Socially unaware people promulgated cult dynamics through their false sense of identity and power. And a third set, perhaps overlapping with the first two, were people who were going through intense inner experiences through the energies of their yogic practice and of the place, to the degree that they lost comportment sometimes, might make involuntary noises or movements during meditation, or as was said undergo any variety of "kriya", the involuntary self-healing action of an inwardly activated inner yogi, sometimes these were emotional trips people might reasonlessly travel upon. Kriyas were common, and compassion and understanding were everyone's response.

But Baba was there for everyone, the sane and the crazy, and we all got to do sadhana as intensely as we could in our time with him, however brief or long it was.

One day I was exploring what it meant to worship the Guru, and I was there in afternoon darshan watching him. I remember very clearly I tried to give him what I conceived of as a look of loving worship. And somehow at that instant he looked right at me with a look of pure disgust. It was shocking, and I was shocked. But clearly he communicated and taught me right there that it is not direct personal googoo-eyes that constitute the worship of the guru. That is a deeper mystery. By the way I am continuing to work on that now.

There you have it, my personal experiences of Baba Muktananda. I was 21 years old, far from wise. When my four months visa came to expire and my plane ticket return date came, I didn't know how to ask him for permission to stay, so I told him I am leaving, he asked what I would do, I said I'd be going back to school, and the rest of my life I have been trying to come back there to stay. He had a general benevolence toward me, he was definitely the Great, sincere Teacher, and took his role to be that of a teacher, teaching me actively and with a virtuoso's naturalness, through those few personal interactions we had. In my experience he was a king, the truest king I ever saw. You can read his writings and you will see him to be a real, true Guru, always on message, always sharing the encompassing oneness of his own love for his own Guru. I believe he is a major historic figure who has been key in the world's spiritual development, in bringing true wisdom to the west, and to modern society, which that wisdom is starting to pervade now, less than a lifetime after his tours began. But it is not just as a lucky witness of this personage that I related to him, but as a truly blessed and transformed, happy soul who owes the richness and the frequent rejuvenation of his own emotional life to Muktananda's steady teaching and its echoes through my life.


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Created: September 2021