• Perennial Wisdom

Christmas 1975

It was December, and all around us people were gearing up for the holidays. Several of the residents had already flown away home and I was busy getting the next book ready for press, the next newsletter out, and working on the schedules of classes for the next several months. This year Swamiji was not going to India; he decided to stay in the States since we were growing so quickly that we needed his presence and his wisdom just about every five minutes.

 

The snow was coming down beautifully and I began to wonder what to do. Christmas Eve was always the big celebration time in my family, but I did not want to leave Swamiji alone. What to do? Cassie and I met to make some plans and came up with the idea that we would have a party on Christmas Day with the handful of staff remaining at the Center and, of course, Swamiji would be the honored guest. She did not think that he had celebrated Christmas before, and wanted to have a big meal for him, a decorated Christmas tree, and a fun-filled evening. I thought it was a great idea. Christmas Eve with my family, and the next day with my Guru and fellow students. Now I just needed to catch up on my work. As if he knew about my need, Swamiji kept giving me more and more work that must be done “immediately!”

 

Then, almost as if he knew my problem, Swamiji went to Cassie on December 23 and told her to have a celebration on Christmas Eve because it was better for him in the evening rather than the main day. The party was changed, but I did not know it yet.

 

During one of my rounds to Swamiji’s office for signatures and approvals of the stack of letters I typed for him, I asked politely if I may go home for Christmas Eve. “You are home,” came the brisk reply.

 

“I mean, may I go to the party at my parents’ home?” I asked again, being more precise.

 

“No!” he answered as he signed the last letter. Without looking up at all, he handed the stack back to me to fold, envelope, glue shut, stamp, and send out. My mind raced for a reason for his “no” as well as deliberated what I should do, knowing that my family would be hurt.

 

“We will have our own celebration tomorrow.”

 

Somewhere inside me a voice said, “Well I won’t be there!” not fully realizing that the words bubbled up and came out of my mouth. He looked a bit surprised at me and then just walked out of the office, leaving me to complete the work.

 

How could I tell my family that I would not be there? Here I was, a few miles from home, with Mom and Dad, the twins, and two little brothers waiting for me. And of course, my other siblings would be driving in to share in the fun.

 

The rest of the day I thought and thought of this problem as I ran up and down the corridor, typesetting this and that, helping with the cleaning, bothering Justin to write class blurbs for the new year’s classes I needed to add to the schedule. Time seemed to run faster than I did, and by the time I looked at my clock, it was evening.

 

Justin picked me up and we walked down to Gurudev’s house in the dark. “My family is having its party tomorrow,” I told him.

 

“Yes, too bad you can’t go,” he said. Before I exploded at him, we were at Swamiji’s door and he was inviting us in.

 

“Tree, make tea!” The usual refrain was shouted out in a happy, booming voice, as I dropped my coat and made for the kitchen. That night he kept us longer than usual speaking of future plans, telling jokes, and drinking one cup after another of his famous tilk. Finally, he told us it was time for us to go to sleep. I touched his feet silently and left.

 

The next morning was cold and damp. Cassie and Howard phoned, excited about the party, but I said I didn’t think I could come. I then told Justin that I would not be going. He could not believe my words but when I refused to get in the car when Howard came for help with the last-minute shopping, he gave me a hug and said, “Well, I can’t understand you, but have a nice quiet Christmas with your folks if you want.”

 

As soon as the door closed, I got busy. I pulled out the large, white laundry bag from our Chicago laundry delivery days and began filling it with the gifts I had hidden in the closet. I was so pleased that I was able to make, refurbish, or buy a little something for each of the people that Cassie told me would be at the party. Of course, there was a wrapped carton of cigarettes for Gurudev, along with two new cigarette holders. I wrapped them all up, tied them with ribbon, and filled up the laundry bag.

 

Then I found the glue and began slathering my face to hold all the cotton. I powered my eyebrows, rouged my cheeks, and stuck wads of cotton inside my mouth to make my cheeks look fat. I pulled on my long black socks so they’d look like boots when my shoes came off. Several pillows were tied around my middle with drapery cord, and over them I put on the large red bathrobe that I found in the Salvation Army store several months back. A black belt of Justin’s held me together. Finally I topped my costume off with the red felt stocking cap that I had sewed, and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses from my convent days. One look in the mirror told me I was a bit strange, but everyone should know I was Santa.

 

The tricky part was driving to the party. It was a bit hard to fit behind the wheel of the car, and my old glasses kept steaming up. At one red light I heard pounding on the window of the next car and looked round to see a whole family delighted to find Santa driving a car. We waved and waved until I turned into the last block to the Judt’s house.

 

I stood by the apartment door listening to the laughter within, hoping that I was doing the right thing. I didn’t want to offend anyone, and perhaps this surprise would be too much for my teacher. I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. When the door was opened, I shouted, “Merry Christmas” as loud as I could and was stunned to see all the mouths drop open before me. “Merry Christmas, Ho, ho, ho!”

 

Everyone began to laugh and shout and welcome Santa into their midst. Justin could not quite believe what he saw and stood there scratching his head, smirking, and wrinkling his brow. I was a bit poked and prodded until I said, “I want to see all the children!” and plopped down on a dining room chair. “Now, where is Swami Rama?” I huffed in a Santa voice. “Bring him to me!” Swamiji got up from his seat and walked over to me smiling. I pulled him down on my lap and said in a deep voice, “Now, Swamiji, have you been a good boy?”

 

The group held their breaths until Swamiji replied with a definite good boy look, his big eyes filled with fun. “Well, Santa, I’ve tried really hard this year!”

 

The room exploded into laughter as he threw his arms around Santa giving a big hug and then another when he got his present. Then he began to peel away Santa’s disguise until he finally smiled and said, “Ah, there’s my Tree! Merry Christmas!”

 

The music was turned back on, more good food was brought out to the table, the extra presents I brought were given round, and Swamiji beamed at me, realizing that I had made a difficult choice. This was, indeed, my family and here was where I belonged. I’d be with my other family next week. For right now, I was celebrating with the Lord of the Himalayas right here in a little apartment in a little suburb in the flat lands of Illinois.

 

 

 

  • Perennial Wisdom

 

Why? Can’t Remember

I was very hurt by Swamiji. I cried. Tonight was a gathering at Cassie’s house. Justin left earlier and when I told him I was not going to be with Gurudev, he looked a bit frightened.

 

“Look you have to go! He said you must come tonight.”

 

“Well I’m not going. I’m finished with taking orders from him. I never want to see him again. Why can’t I just have a normal life? Why do I have to keep doing what he says?”

 

Justin thought I’d change my mind, so he left the car parked outside, getting a lift from one of the other students.

 

I was not myself. After about 20 minutes I got into the bathtub and filled it as full as possible. Perhaps I would just drown myself. Perhaps I would just disappear and be born on another planet! The telephone began to ring, but I pretended that I didn’t hear it. I slipped under the water pretending there was no sound.

 

It seemed that I was in a tub for a long time. What else could I do? My life was over. Everything I did I failed at. Why was this man I loved so much hurting me? Suddenly there was a knocking at the bathroom door.

 

“Theresa, are you OK?” asked Justin in a troubled voice. “Swamiji sent me back here to get you. He wants you to come to him tonight” he said shakily.

 

I stopped crying long enough to cry through the locked door, “I don’t’ care what he wants! And you can tell him that. I’m not going with you or with anyone else. Leave me alone!” And like a spoiled, but very upset child, I started to cry again, ignoring Justin’s pleading at the door. Finally I heard the front door slam shut and I felt very strange.

 

There was a quiet around me, and a feeling that some of the pressure had been lifted after the good cry. But there was a strong feeling of emptiness inside. I wrapped myself in a robe and walked around the house. Everything in it was about my spiritual life and my teacher. Books, photos, the clothes we wore, the food we ate, in fact the entire apartment building was because Swamiji asked us to give our house to someone else. I began to feel fear creeping up my spine, but my ego would not get out of the way. “Too bad!” I thought to myself. “I don’t need him!”

 

After another ten minutes of walking around in fear, the phone rang, startling my heart to a rapid pace. I picked up the phone on the sixth ring and said nothing. Slowly and clearly, and filled with power, the voice of my guru said into the receiver, “Come to me right now, or never come again!” With that the phone went dead.

 

This time I began to cry in earnest. “What does he want of me? Why can’t he leave me alone? Why do I have to be on this path anyway. It’s too hard!” My mind ran through the rest of my life past and future and I felt caught in a trap. Wherever I went I was not good enough; whatever I did was not enough. His voice kept echoing in my ear, letting me know that my heart did not want to live without him. My mind told me that my husband was ashamed of me and if I did not obey right now, our life together would be drastically changed. My spirit was hiding in the closet; I could only feel fear in my entire body.

 

As I looked around the room again my eyes fell on the little teddy bear that Justin had given me last year. It reminded me of happier days when I felt strong and peaceful and sure. I picked up the bear and gave it a hug, slowly feeling more of myself. “All right,” I decided, “I’ll go see my guru because I have to.”

 

The drive over seemed too short. My swollen face and shaking hands got there too soon and were it not for the teddy bear sitting on my lap, I don’t know if I could have made it.

 

When Cassie opened the door, her eyes were cast down and the entire room was silent. I kicked off my shoes and entered the room, very frightened and ready for a severe (scolding, discpline, dressing down???). I walked over to Swamiji, sitting in a chair and knelt before him. He bent over, looked deeply into my eyes as his thumbs wiped the tears from them, and pulled me close to himself. I felt his heart beating as well as my own. For a long time he held me and I felt strength flowing into my mind and body as slowly he dropped his arms.

 

“Ah look!” he said to the gathered students to break the stunned silence, “she brought me a gift.” It was then that I realized I had the little bear tucked close to my side looking like an idiot. In a flash I knew that Swamiji knew exactly what the bear was for and did not want me to be embarrassed in the group, so he made up a story about how I remembered how much he loved bears and brought him one.

 

“Make me tilk” he said softly to me and I escaped into the kitchen to cook for him once again, knowing that my life was totally built around this man and that I had indeed made the right decision.

 

Side Note

When Swami Satchidananda Saraswati came to see Swami Rama in his hotel room during a conference in Chicago in the 70’s, I opened the door for him and he fell down on his face to touch Swami Rama’s feet. Of course Swami Rama pulled him up, embarrassed, and told me to make tea. On the way back to his room Swami Satchidananda said to me, “People do not know who he is!”

 

 

Theresa with Justin

 

 

International Yoga Conference, Chicago, ILInternational Yoga Conference, Chicago, IL
Swami Satchidananda, Justin, Swami Rama

 

  • Perennial Wisdom

 

Who could ever suppose, let alone believe, that humans have the capacity to know everything about this expanding cosmos. Who would not view this assertion as preposterous in the face of the geographical complexities of everyday events and the enormity of other galaxies? The truths of reality, personal as well as cultural, are too vast and complicated. However ignored by modern times, the ancient tradition of philosophia perennis yet upholds a universal principle—vincit omnia veritas—truth conquers all things.

 

From that perspective, to which Classical yoga belongs, the very nature of your soul is to penetrate to the essences of all reality, seen and unseen. In the face of amnesia and ignorance, we are born with an unrestricted desire to know the truth of things, to embrace reality. Children’s behavior renders indisputable evidence that it’s unquenchable. What healthy child needs encouragement to engage life? More than nutrition for bodily existence, the human spirit thrives upon its just deserts: satya. We hunger for genuine knowledge. The pursuit of various interests, projects, particular hobbies, a chosen career, illustrate continuously that irrepressible desire to grasp and seek the meaning of life. Whether we pronounce it in Eastern or Western terms, the joy of being alive flows from our rendezvous with truth. How confusing and listless existence would be without satya, without veritas.

 

Yet the truth that dwells in the core of all things none but the few do contemplate.

Anselm of Canterbury

 

When we think about it, our practical achievements in life are built upon the truths that inspire them. We dream of sharing a life. One day opportunity knocks and we answer. What could be more fascinating, especially at the personal level, than the truth of knowing someone you love? How precious to experience the excitement and enjoyment of watching your children mature, sharing events with them, sympathizing with their struggles and play, embracing all the mix of activities that draw you into knowing them. Yet we also know the truth of living on a planet with many serious conflicts and disturbing knowledge.

 

Given our indisputable reliance upon truth and its consequences, it appears puzzling, at first glance, that Classical Yoga’s manual, the Sutras, states truth the second disposition to assist in one’s journey to self-discovery. With our irrepressible propensity to know how things work and communicate our knowledge, not choosing truth as primary seems impertinent, if not unnatural. So why is ahimsa—the attitude of non-harming—given precedence?

 

Some time ago, a renowned French scientist, Jacques Monod, proudly announced that the world was basically a chance filled universe. Simply put, there was neither rhyme nor reason for its existence. Everything—from Malibu and monkeys to mushrooms and moonbeams—was aggregations of random molecules. Nature is terribly overrated because her wares possess no consistent natures. Plant your garden, and what comes up is wholly by chance. The presence of intelligent life on these terms is an aberrant incident, an accidental evolution.

 

When the scientist was pressed on how he reached his staggering conclusion about life, he blithefully replied that he excluded in his examination of reality any evidence for order, stability, coherence, and purpose. How liberal of him.

 

By dismissing those inconvenient clues that, in other words, would resist his predetermined thesis that life endures as essentially chaotic configurations, he betrays truth for his personal agenda. To get us to agree with him, just avoid any facts in evidence that preclude a sense of recurring order. Quick to reply to our professor is Aldous Huxley: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

 

Thinking about these professional assertions, clues emerge why ahimsa rises first in dispositions toward reality. Most people, including scientists, would prefer to guide their lives with truth rather than deliberately delude themselves, no matter how comforting the latter. If for no other reason, factual truth tends to be safer and more profitable in the long run. Just ask mortgage investors.

 

In this context of remaining in touch with reality, the wanting of the truth implies, first and foremost, a primary non-interference regard for things as they truly existence, warts et al. That may seem obvious but it’s importance can not be emphasized enough. It’s so easy to abuse the truth to my advantage. To step into a scene of life and immediately select what facts to line up to fit my predetermination may obtain results but truth is not one of them. Rather, what the truth seeker intends to respect is the scene, the situation, and the story with its full report. Commentary comes later. To achieve this kind of demeanor toward the reality requires a receptive attitude, so to speak, that must accompany the entire pursuit of knowledge. It is more fundamental than memorizing rules of engagement. Otherwise truth is warped amidst subjective fancies.

 

In our doing and acting everything depends on this, that we comprehend objects clearly and treat them according to their nature.

Goethe

 

Truth, the vibrant fruit of knowing, flourishes when the learner allows reality to be itself. For me to know you, I must let you be. How could it be otherwise? Risky but only if I lack confidence in myself. To insist that you dance to my drummer may please me no end but the truth of you stays obscured. For then whom am I actually loving?

 

The only, the indispensable, the irrefutable, way to know the nature of truth is to pursue being as it exists, as a lover would stand before his beloved. Being neutral misses the point. To discern truth means to express the exclusive demeanor of the respectful inquirer. One initiates, keeping all due respect, a courtesy call upon reality. Unless the seeker sustains this tacit sense of fairness as he learns, the opportunity for the fullness of truth diminishes. Thus, we would remain in our chaotic world endorsed by Dr. Monod.

 

Are you strong enough to let things reveal themselves? A neighbor, instead of beholding the requirements of one of nature’s marvels, once cut off the bottom of a cocoon in order to expedite the caterpillar’s shedding its cover. A deformed buttterfly emerged unable to open its crippled wings.

 

Ahimsa emphasizes that facts are respected as they are. Could you possibly understand anything, let alone a person for whom you profess affection, on the pre-condition that they first meet your terms? You may not necessarily approve of what you detect traveling down the byways of cities, but the truth of the matter is that even slum dogs can become millionaires.

 

A receptive bonding invites the learner. Ahimsa implicates Satya in avoiding the tempting penchant for enforcing subjective agendas contrary to the facts. To demure to reality keeps your love for truth unspoiled.

 

If this premise is too high then life remains mediocre and manipulative. How to achieve such a humane standard? First, cultivate perception without pretensions. When you step out of your home on a wintry day, the weather does not await your approval. When you arrive at your employment, the blustering work situation, without your presence, is already in play. Like it or not, neither the climate nor the office environment are there with your permission. Who says any factors must suit your expectations before you acknowledge their significance? Recognition of truth does not demand condoning but only decifering the facts. What you do with this unpretentious view of life is another issue.

 

When you ponder the truth of a person, for example, you recognize something uniquely real---an embodied spirit. Fostering friendship, you embark on an investigation of a complex being whose revelation ever increases. Only careful attention, however, with an abiding receptivity enables discovery. What cautions you from trying to manipulate personal truth, using it for your own utilitarian devices? What pauses one from slyly speaking and acting toward others from hidden agendas? What else but ahimsa wedded with fairness to the pursuance and communication of truth.

 

A wise person is one who savours all things as they are.

Bernard of Clairvaux

 

How long before we learn that deliberate ignorance can be costly as well as bruising. Yet some resist any arduous way that proves knowledge liberates. Instead, we isolate ahimsa from satya. We exploit learning without the regard due to things and people. We foster calculative abuses in politics, relationships, even religions. A measure of the ingenious ways one can subvert truth and offend others in the process is portrayed by a recent investigator for banking irregularities, William K. Black, who published, “The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.” Unless the practice of truth shares the journey’s leadership with its companion, ahimsa, freedom remains an elusive dream.

 

When one practices truth from a disposition of love, unexpected, even amazing, things can occur. Some years ago, when Swami Rama was walking along the shore with his master, a Station Manager approached them and implored swami to give him a practice to do.

 

His master replied: “From this day on, don’t lie. Practice this rule faithfully for the next three months.

 

Our aspirant went away determined not to lie nor do anything unlawful.

 

Shortly thereafter, a railroad Supervisor came to investigate the rumors of thievery at the Station. Our new truth teller answered candidly that he and the staff were involved in accepting bribes. Everyone was rounded up to jail. You can imagine the reaction among his co-workers when word got out that he had exposed them.

 

Well, they decided to set things straight by colluding a story that Mr. informer was the sole ringleader. Our aspiring truth discloser was indicted and while he was waiting in jail, the others were released. Abandoned by wife and family, who withdrew all his finances, he became a persona non grata and the laughingstock to his friends and associates.

 

A month later his case came before the court. As he stood in the docket, he must have pondered, “This is what I get for telling the truth.”

 

The judge inquired about his situation. Undeterred, he calmly explained to the magistrate the whole story, was willing to accept whatever the court decided, and asserted that he most interested in what the next two months of following the truth would bring.

 

Something about his story intrigued the judge enough to call a recess.

 

He interrogated the accused and recognized the mentioned Sage as his own Gurudeva. Now the real story came out and the others were indicted and our accused received a brief sentence.

 

On day ninety, a telegram arrived for our penniless, but truthful vagabond. The government was awarding him one million rupees for some land that belonged to his family in another Province.

 

Once his wife heard the astounding news, she insisted that her divorce from him was an unfortunate misunderstanding. He smiled knowingly, gave her and the children his compensation. Departing for the mountains, never to be seen from again, he was heard muttering that after speaking only the truth for three months, what would happen if he didn’t lie for the rest of his life.

 

Perhaps what Swamiji’s master was trying to insinuate is that something much greater awaits when one determines to be a lover of truth by piercing the compelling temptations to short circuit life.

 

I wonder what would happen if more people spoke the truth for ninety days?

 

The Wanderer

 

The Wanderer