Superman and his Saffron Van

He had a big van that could accommodate all the little birds in his nest. He called them “eaglets” , as he wanted them to soar on their own. Their stay with him was a preparation for their flight. Everyone was taken care of and he drove them to where he thought was best for them. The little ones might have sometimes thought that he was going too fast or might have wanted a shorter ride, but that was not left to them. By calling them “little” I am not indicating their age, but their growth in the Yoga Life. They were part of a Gurukula [experiential educational space] and had to look at themselves as children who had a lot to learn, rather than grown ups who thought they knew everything.

Swami Gitananda chartered their course and decided the pace for them. He knew what they needed for their growth. His heart like his van accomodated all. He saw to it that everyone who came to him was taken at least a step up the evolutionary ladder, if not many. The way he did it, of course, was not entirely equal. Some had to have their shells cracked open, while others were just nudged. He was the hammer knocking down the hard egos and the sandpaper that smoothened out the roughness. One of his students in those days thought he might benefit better by going to Swami Gitananda’s Guru, Swami Kanakananda, also called “The Sleepless Saint”. Little did he know what was in store for him. He telegrammed Swamiji from Swami Kanakananda’s Ahsram in india : “Your Guru has ripped me apart”. Swamiji telegrammed back: “pick up the pieces you want to keep and put yourself back together again”. He wanted us to re-create ourselves all the time!

That was what Swamiji could do for someone’s ego. He was like a tornado that dismantled every wrong notion that one had. He blew away any belief that one was unwilling to let go of. He saw to it that one did not have the strength to hold on to old patterns. He took away the conviction with which one held on to ideas he/she mistook to be love for the Divine. In the process, if one tried to hold on to Swamiji, then he was shaken again. One of the lines of Swami Gitananda I read was, “when I am gone burn my Ashram and look after your own evolution”. I know that the Ashram still exists and provides a structure for all associated with it. Yet, I also realize that he did not want an organization to be built. He did not want his disciples to be stuck with his image. He wanted them to find their own path within the structure and spiritual laws. Despite asking his students to burn everything, he passed on to them all that was in him. How much they absorbed depended on them. He wanted them to burn their hang-ups and not what they had internalized. Swamiji’s energy still moves in the Ashram. By being in the Ashram I have had realisations and many spiritual experiences of my own. Those experiences become one’s own if the mind is open and there is an awareness that layers unfold within us every moment. He passed on to us everything, not just through language or the intellect, but also through osmosis. For that, one needs to have a semi-permeable membrane. If the shell is too hard, then nothing enters, or if it is too weak, then one lets negative vibrations from outside enter. By the strength and quality of Swamiji’s vibrations, he raised the quality of conciousness of those around him. His aim was not to gather disciples, but to have the eaglets become eagles and to get in touch with the Inner or |Universal Guru.

His love was of the highest order, as he wanted all his students to evolve to the Highest. He pointed to the stars and told them, “that’s where you have to go”. He gave them a vision and showed the path. I never knew swamiji, when he was in this body, yet I can feel his spirit in his teachings and sense his protective energy in the Ashram. I knew he would never let a soul lay a finger on his near and dear ones and would even take on their negative karmas if he could see them suffer less. At the same time he would not flinch if he had to teach them some hard lessons himself . His empathy was his greatest strength and his greatest pitfall. He recognised “empathy” as a quality that one had to transcend. It takes a lot of sensitivity, acceptance of oneself and a highly evolved consciousness to see that. His source of power was his acceptance of his vulnerability. The more he accepted it, the less he wanted to force growth on someone. His concern, love and empathy could make him overzealous in wanting the best for his students. But you cannot want the best for some if they don’t want it. From their level, what Swamiji wanted was not visible to them and this only drove them away. Yet, they knew they had grown. Despite their ego’s being broken, they had seen themselves become better and more skilled human beings. And yet they loved to hate him. There was a love – hate relationship with Swamiji as he was a mirror. He was a mirror that showed them their relaionship with themselves.

Swamiji created a reality for his students like the virtual reality on computers. He created havoc in their lives so that they would realize that if they continued being the way they were, this was what would happen in reality. If the student grew from the experience, it was as if part of his negative karma had gone. Like in the film MATRIX , the mind thinks it to be real, though it is simulated. Similarly, a Guru never made the student fill out a questionnaire and tick what he would do in a particular situation. Instead, he put him through the situation and observed him. If the student was unwilling to move ahead, then the experience had to be repeated. He gave his students some hard truths and experiences to grow and grow out of.

Swami Gitananda with his power could wash away the negative karma of many lifetimes. He gave the student the experience of self-knowledge. He made him understand that just like Swamiji did, life would also bring him to the edge, cause pain to soften him for growth, but never push him over the edge. Some accept their vulnerability while others hide from it and further harden their facades. This hardening makes us less sensitive to others and ourselves. The tornadoes in my life made me appreciate the breeze, as otherwise I would have neglected it. No doubt the hurricane makes you re-examine your life, yet the breeze is a constant reminder. Because we neglect constant gentle reminders we often have often to suffer a big hard tragic lesson that we can no longer escape.

Most of the time, we are dazzled by destruction. Not many are fascinated by the breeze, as they are by tornadoes or other destructive forces of nature. It is this need to see everything that BELONGS to one be destroyed. Deep inside we want to be stripped of all the externals. Yet, we are afraid to see our naked selves. This fascination for destruction is an unfulfilled need to see our egos destroyed and go back to oneness, but it gets distorted. Instead, we end up being self-destructive and destroy our bodies and mind through addictions and overdulgence. The human potential, if not channelised properly, will find other ways of statement. This suppressed force will grate on oneself and others and cannot lie dormant for long. Like a volcano it will throw up the energy, which will cause destruction. Swamiji recognized the need to channelise this inner potential, especially in children. To foster spirituality in the youth, thousands of village children were taught Yoga and Bharat Natyam freely by him. They were given free educational and medical help, food and clothing and a structure to grow in the Sri Kambliswamy Yoga and Cultural Arts for Youth Programme started by him in 1975.

His heart was accomodating, yet sometimes he needed to roar to get the message across. His ferocity earned him the name “The Lion of Pondicherry . His fierceness was only towards that which was holding one back from bringing out one’s highest potential. He reminded me more of Santa Claus in his later years. So what were Santa’s gifts or rewards? As one of Swamiji’s students, Dr.Jonn Mumford, who comes from Australia on occasion to teach Yantra at ICYER said, “The reward for well done is more work”. He loved to see people do their duties with joy and skill. Yoga would make a teacher a better teacher, a mother a better mother, a manager a better manager, a Hindu a better Hindu and a Christian or Muslim a better Christian or Muslim. The more one loves, the more one’s capacity to love increases. When one turns to violence, the more desensitized one becomes to violence. When one works with joy, the capacity to do more work increases.

Swamiji never shirked work. He studied in London and worked in London and Vancouver as a doctor before formally establishing the Ananda Ashram and the International Centre For Yoga Education and Research, Pondicherry . His years as a doctor helped him interpret Yoga from a medical and scientific point of view. He gave people the basics of healthy living, before the Great Truths that most were not ready for. People literally rot to death. He said that the stench emating from a body which was cut open would be that of rotting garbage when a person was operated on. People slowly die; their minds and bodies become garbage dumps. The crisis situations and the diseases are “a wake up call” alerting the person to action before they destroy themselves in years of neglect. When some people asked him if he could read their thoughts, he said that it would be like sifting through a pile of garbage and he would like to spare himself the ordeal!

He was not just a healer of bodies, but guided a soul through its journey on earth. He was a man of many talents. He could go on speaking forever! His Satsangas would some times go beyond 1 am and the students fell asleep (in Padma Asana, of course). He painted, was a gourmet and wrote many books. His wife and student Meenakshi Devi, (the spiritual speed machine you read about in my last article) would type out his articles for him. He would take all the classes starting from 5 am in the morning to you know when in the night, or rather past midnight . He had tapped into an endless resource of energy. Swamiji, in fact, had a lot of Siddhis or powers. He did not display it much, as people can easily go off on the wrong track. These psychic powers can also be obtained from lower entities and are not an indicator of one’s spiritual growth. Most of us want power and yet we are afraid of it. We are afraid we might misuse it and that is exactly what happens when we get it, as we want it for all the wrong reasons. Swamiji’s power was a result of his power over his lower or animal nature, rather than a bestial desire to dominate, or a desire to control others.

Like SUPERMAN he used his power for good. He helped his students OVERCOME the enemy or the bad guy. He gave them a space in which to see that the enemy was none other than themselves! It was their wrong notions and uncontrolled thoughts and desires that were creating havoc. He gave them the strength to fight their own battles and instilled in them the need to use their intellect and not react emotionally. When his students told swamiji that they wanted to renounce everything, he asked them whether they had a house, a PhD any achievements or people that loved and respected them. Most had none of those things. Swamiji then would say “first improve your minds so that you can go beyond it. If you are anyway dull and incapable of much, then what the hell do you have to renounce?” He used more of his brain than most men did. His mind was controlled by him rather than the other way around. The word “Man” comes from the Sanskrit word “Manas” which means “mind”(not the intellect) in Sanskrit. Swamiji is definitely of SUPERIOR MANAS or CONSCIOUSNESS. He had tapped into his full as a “man” being, of infinite love and power and not dictated by fear and survival urges. He was definitely of SUPER CONSCIOUSENESS or in short a “Superman”.

He kept his students busy so that they did not get into flights of fancy. The mind can play tricks and one could fool oneself into believing that he is “superman” or a great spiritual being. That’s why Swamiji taught his students to start with the body, as it was quite clear whether one could touch his toes or could not. There was no room for fooling oneself. He wanted his students to constantly work on themselves. He refined their bodies and emotions and sharpened their minds. He instilled in them the need for discipline. “If something needs to be done, go and do it now” , Swamiji would say. Nowadays, we have become convenient critics. We blame everybody, and everything for the state of affairs, but do not move to put in our bit to change it. We are by-standers in life. We watch it go by without making it our own. Most even confuse it for non-attachment. It is but a silly excuse for fearing failure or success. It is a lack of involvement. We take the easy way out by becoming complacent. Or, we keep on taking without giving in return, as though life is indebted to us. We do not put back anything into the earth, our country or into life.

This lack of involvement makes us fatalistic, “Oh, what can I do? It’s written on my head!. I am not responsible! Only God knows why my life is not moving ahead”. Now God Himself becomes a convenient scape-goat !. As if He asked you to eat the big bar of chocolate! Or asked you not to shift your job or pick up new skills! Or asked you to lose your cool over your coffee being too hot or not being hot enough. When the going is tough, we have to look at what we are meant to learn from it. How we can avoid a repeat. We need to see if our need for superficial excitement puts us through the roller coaster. Whether we can learn only from “the School of Hard Knocks” and not from the soft voice of the Guru. Whether we are influenced by externals alone. Whether we need a hammer to break our ignorance or can we listen to the whisper in the breeze?

The next time you need to get something done ASK if you need a hurricane to move from you from your lethargy or can you change before you churn up a storm? If you find insignificant things keeping you away from your priorities, ask if you are addict of highs and if you trade stability for the momentary thrills and last minute frenzies. When you don’t want to wake up in the morning to go for your walk or to do your practical Hatha Yoga Sadhana, do you want disease to give you the wake up call? Are you going to wait until your life crumbles before you re-examine your lifestyle and beliefs? Are you going to push things under the carpet until it blows up on your face? Are you going to dam the slush till you cannot hold it any further? Can you reform yourself smoothly before life jolts you awake? Important questions! Important decisions! The Guru helps us to give – as well as live – the right answers!