I drove across America from New York to Indiana, stopping at night and sleeping in the back seat. In Indiana I stopped for a few days to visit family and then headed west using the back roads, never driving more than eight hours in a day, stopping in parks and sometimes in parking lots to sleep and eat.
I felt my Michael, my individuality, like a chess piece that I could move around within the unlimited expanse of my space ‘I’. Driving through the vast open-sky country of America, there was no avoiding the constant rush of experience, everything was unfolding continuously with a feeling of my connection to the whole. At night, driving under the stars and into the stars, I felt as though I was in a starship heading out beyond the galaxy.
I arrived in Boulder, Colorado one beautiful morning in August. As I drove up a narrow street I noticed a poster attached to a light pole with a picture of a man I had read about. I pulled over. On it was a photo of Baba Muktananda, a name that I did not yet know how to pronounce, but he was on my must-meet list. The flyer said: BE WITH BABA. For some inexplicable reason, I was filled with overwhelming joy! I began to dance in the street, turning around and around like an intoxicated Sufi in mad ecstasy.
There was a telephone number that directed me to an address in Denver, where Baba had set up a meditation hall. When I arrived Baba was out on a retreat, a few of his students were there. Uma, one of the Western students, dressed in an orange sari, greeted me. She was one of a small group of people traveling on a tour of America with Baba, and had been living in India with him at his ashram outside of what was then called Bombay.
We talked for some time while waiting for Baba’s return. There were photos of Baba and his Guru, Nityananda, everywhere. The energy in the meditation hall was pure bliss. Uma could see that I was drunk and explained to me that this was Shakti, the divine energy, that radiated from an enlightened being like Baba.
Uma told me Denver was the most spiritually dead place they had been on the tour. To my delight, she then said, “I think we only came here to get you!”
Meeting the Guru
We heard the sound of a car pulling up right outside the door and the few of us on hand rushed to meet Baba. My heart leapt as he strolled in the door. He wore tinted glasses, but I could still see his eyes behind them. He stopped in front of me and Uma introduced us. He didn’t speak to me in English, but to my surprise Uma translated for me.
He pointed his finger at me and said, “Have we met before?”
I said, “No Baba, but I’ve seen your photo,” thinking that he was really asking about my present state of intoxication.
I was having trouble getting my mind to work. He asked, “Where are you from?”
I wasn’t sure where I was from. As something finally came to mind, he already moved on to another trick question.
Something like, “What do you do?” While I was trying to come up with an answer Baba disappeared into a nearby kitchen and returned with a large bowl of potato salad, and gliding around began to spoon a handful into everyone’s outstretched hand.
“Did you eat?” he asked as he plopped the scalding hot salad, fresh from the stove, into my hand. I didn’t even flinch. I was so grateful that I didn’t have to answer.
So I felt I was accepted and learned that everyone was excited that at the next weekend retreat Baba was going to be giving Shaktipat, the transmission of spiritual energy (Shakti) from the Guru to the student.
Amazing! I had met my teacher and was to receive initiation all in the same week. Truly, when you are ready the teacher will appear. Everything that had happened in my life had led to this moment.
That first week I fell into the daily routine around Baba. As I was to learn, it was almost always the same. Right after meditation and morning tea, we thanked his Guru, Nityananda, for what he had given to Baba. We stopped and thanked him again just before we had our lunch, and we thanked him once again just before retiring for the night.
Baba said: “If someone were to ask me what gives meaning to my life, I would only say, the name of my Guru. I discovered everything within me by my Guru’s grace. Bhagavan Shri Nityananda was a perfect Guru. His essential teaching was: The heart is the hub of all sacred places. Go there and roam in it. By remembering and worshipping such a master with the recitation of the Guru Gita, one becomes holy.”
The first morning I chanted the Guru Gita with our small group (it is chanted in Sanskrit), I very quickly became hopelessly lost and could not find my place as the group raced on through the verses. I closed my eyes and just listened. My mind became permeated with the chant. The most sublime love rose up from within. Tears of ecstasy flowed down my cheeks.
At the same time, from a few rows behind me, I could hear two guys talking to each other. I heard Baba speak to the translator and she called out to them, saying, “If you don’t want to participate, why don’t you wait outside until we finish then come back in.”
Although Baba wasn’t addressing me, I was in a hypersensitive state and took it personally. Even after lunch it was still on my mind. I went outside and sat with my back against a tree, thinking “I am going to be in trouble around here all the time,” when one of the students came running out to me and said, “Baba is asking for you.” We ran back inside and I plopped down in front of Baba.
Baba said to me, “Did you eat?”
And so my lessons began. From the first day to the last day, many years later, I received only unconditional love from Baba.
During the evening darshan (a time when we could ask Baba a question or new arrivals could greet Baba), I asked Baba for a mantra, and I was given Om Namah Shivaya. It was printed on a card with instructions on how to use it.
The weekend meditation retreat was located in a beautiful wooded area near Colorado Springs. I had my own little cabin and was very excited to finally be learning how to meditate. There were two senior monks traveling with Baba and they were giving most of the talks and meditation instructions. The highlight of the retreat was to be Baba’s talk and the meditation to follow, when he would come around and touch everyone individually.
When the meditation period began, I was sitting in the back of the hall so I could lean up against the wall - my back was hurting, my knees were hurting. I wasn’t used to sitting on the floor. The hall was darkened for the meditation and, leaning forward trying to get some relief for my aching back, out of the corner of my eye I could see Baba coming down the row toward me. I sat up and closed my eyes pretending to be meditating when Baba stopped in front of me. Baba grabbed a pinch of skin in the area of my third eye, just between the eyebrows on the forehead, and held on.
My mind began to race, what’s going to happen now? what’s the meaning of this? He let go and moved on down the silent row of students, leaving a fragrant trail in his wake.
Gradually all pain left me. All agitation left me. I couldn’t remember ever being so happy. Even as a child, there was always some concern.
After the meditation, there was a time to come up and meet Baba. I went outside to get some apples I had brought just for this occasion. The forest was scintillating with energy, everything was so beautiful and interesting. I was so delighted that I skipped down the road to the car to get the apples.
There was a line of folks coming up to Baba and I joined the line. This, as I said, is called darshan. Baba considered it to be a very important function. This was also a time when he would give a mantra or answer any question you might have about your practice. Even before I got to him, he started to laugh. I was so intoxicated! He began swatting me with his peacock feathers, which only made things worse for me.
Baba said, “Here comes one who is already doing the mantra!”
When I was at his knee and placing the apples in a basket in front of him, he leaned over and said softly,
“On your way to meet me you had an experience of God, didn’t you?”
I was laughing and crying at the same time. I bowed so low I hit my head on the little platform his chair was sitting on. He knows about that experience I had in the shower! I can see that Baba is lit up like a Christmas tree, certainly he can see me.
“And you’re getting good meditation already!” he said.
My mind is again stunned into silence. Meditation?
I don’t know what meditation is! Oh! The inmost essence of my Self is this supreme bliss! This is it!
I am That! I banged my head on the step once again, and laughing and wiping tears, stumbled off.
The ancient writings of the sages use only three words when referencing the artist of creation.
The first word is ‘Sat,’ meaning 'it exists'.
It is existence. It is present. It exists in all times. It pervades all objects. It permeates all forms. It is the ground of all. It is the support of all. It is the foundation of the entire universe. It is All-ness, Is-ness, and Being-ness. It is the source for the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of the universe.
Which brings us to the second word, ‘Chit.’
It is the Knower, nothing is known without the Knower.
Inherent in the Presence is an Infinite, timeless Knowingness. It is this divine consciousness alone, luminous, absolute and free-willed as it is, which flashes forth in the form of innumerable worlds.
So the one Self whose essence is consciousness, by its own free will, plays all the parts and either chooses to reveal or conceal itself.
Revelation presents itself as self-explanatory and obvious. One reflection of its presence is the capacity to comprehend the incomprehensible by the self-revelation of its essence.
This Self is both immanent in the universe and transcends it.
Which brings us to the third word, ‘Ananda’, meaning Bliss.
When, through practice, we renounce all mental activities and are poised in a pure state free from the bondage of the pursuit of sense activities, then by grace we rest in the highest Self. At once the nectar of undiminished happiness rains down. That pure blissful consciousness in which there is no sense of differentiation, in which the entire universe appears as the Self.
The Self is full of the flow of bliss, because of its being free from all desire, because of its being fully perfect, because of its being the essence of absolute freedom.
The love, peace, compassion and profound understanding of the Divine Presence reveal the infinite nature of reality as the Awareness which transcends duality.
The Happiest Man in the World
Chade-Meng Tan tells this story in his book, Search Inside Yourself.
Matthieu Ricard was born and grew up in France. In 1972, after completing his Ph.D. in molecular genetics at the Institute Pasteur, he decided to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk.
Matthieu’s career choice leads us to the story of how Matthieu became “the happiest man in the world.” When the Dalai Lama became interested in the science of meditation, he invited Tibetan Buddhist monks to participate in scientific studies. Matthieu was an obvious choice for a subject, and his brain became the subject of numerous scientific studies.
One of many measurements conducted on Matthieu was his level of happiness. It turns out there is a way to gauge happiness in the brain: by measuring the relative activation of a certain part of your left prefrontal cortex versus your right prefrontal cortex. The stronger the relative left-tilt measured in a person, the more that person reports positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, high energy, and so on.
When Matthieu’s brain was scanned, his happiness measure was completely off the charts. He was by far the happiest person ever measured by the scientific method.
Baba said we should live in the world and enjoy the natural pleasures that come to us in life, seeing it all as a play of consciousness. The strings should not be too tight - nor too loose.
The Unhappiest Man in the World
Compare Matthieu’s story with this famous story by Tolstoy, called Father Sergius, about a handsome officer of the guards named Prince Stepan Kasatsky, a man of the world with a brilliant future ahead of him who, upon discovering that his betrothed had once been the mistress of the Czar, retires from society, surrenders all his worldly possessions, and becomes a monk. In the monastery he devotes himself to the conquest of the temptations of passion and pride through obedience and work, but though he prostrates himself in prayer, his soul is not in it. Eventually he becomes a hermit and as the years pass under the name of Father Sergius, he acquires the reputation of a holy man. Yet, he is still tormented by doubts and by the lust of the flesh.
One day, at carnival time, a merry company of wealthy men and women, including a beautiful divorcee called Makovkina, passes by his hermitage. Makovkina makes a bet with her companions that she can spend the night with the recluse.
She beats upon the door of his cave, crying that she is wet and frozen, imploring him to let her in. Father Serguis presses his face to the window and sees her. Their eyes meet with instant recognition, not that they had ever known one another - they had never met before. But by the look they exchanged, they – and he particularly – felt that they knew and understood one another. “Lord, help me!” he exclaimed, crossing himself and bowing low.
Father Sergius opens the door, Makovkina enters his cell, and he disappears to the other side of the partition. But he heard everything. He heard how the silk rustled when she took off her dress, how she stepped with bare feet on the floor, and heard how she rubbed her feet with her hand. He felt his own weakness and that he might be lost at any moment. That was why he prayed unceasingly.
The desire to look seized him. The woman called out to him, she needed his help, she was in pain. “I will come to you directly,” Father Sergius said. But walking past her without a glance, he went to the porch where he was used to chopping wood. Taking up the axe with his right hand, he laid the forefinger of his left hand on the block, swung the axe, and struck it below the second joint.
He heard the finger fall before he felt any pain, but before he had time to be surprised, he felt the burning pain and the warmth of flowing blood. He hastily wrapped the stump in the skirt of his cassock and pressing it to his hip went back into the room and standing in front of the woman, lowered his eyes and asked in a low voice: “What do you want?”
The play of consciousness!
Mantra was always an important component of my meditation. Although I began my meditation with Baba with Om Namah Shivaya, a few years later at a retreat in northern California he initiated all the participants into So’ham japa (japa is the repetition of a mantra). He said it was a meditation technique for everyone. So’ham means I am That, or That I am.
This mantra has become the love of my life. I have been using this mantra for 36 years. Baba described all the nuances of this practice in great detail. Here, I will mention only the highlights. The initiation itself requires much greater depth.
All spiritual paths come down to us from saints who have attained the final realization. They lead to real happiness and peace, and promote the highest welfare of mankind.
External happiness is trivial and fleeting. If all the pleasures in the world were at your disposal, they could not make you happy. Sense pleasure depends on sense objects. Perfect joy, the unconditional bliss of the Self, can only spring independently from within.
The bliss of the Self, which is perfect and eternal, arises in complete freedom, and is unobtainable by material means. Man looks for bliss in the activities and places he fancies, but supreme bliss is only inside, in the heart, where it imparts peace and fulfillment.
Though it is already here, it must be disclosed by spiritual practices like pranayama, japa and meditation, or by divine grace.
Butter is latent in milk, but some effort must be expended to get it. The oil is in sesame seeds from the beginning, but some process has to be used to extract it. A tailor’s work turns cloth into clothing.
Similarly, the inner realms of bliss will show themselves only after a seeker makes effort along the lines laid down by his Guru. Inner bliss is self-generated and one with the Self.
One should do japa feeling one with the mantra.
Sri Kanthiya Samhita says: If mantra, its deity and the one who recites remain separate, its power will never be realized. Inner peace will not come.
This is why I tell everyone, ‘Worship and honor your own Self. Meditate on your own Self. Kneel to your own Self. Do japa of your own Self. The Lord dwells within you as you.’
Doing japa of one’s own Self means that the mantra, its deity, and the one who recites vibrate as one within the mind. In this way the power of the mantra is realized. This is the great secret of mantra japa.
- To find inner peace you must make some conscious effort to detach yourself from the desires of the restless mind. Baba says, “A man’s excesses, his undisciplined eating, his pleasure seeking, loses for him his connection to divine energy.”
- One certainly can and should live in the world, enjoying on the human level the natural pleasures of life.
- Nevertheless, one who seeks spiritual freedom and liberation in meditation needs discipline and does not yield passively to all the pleasures advertised by a society of salesmen and consumers.
- “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Gospel of St. John
- This statement echoes almost exactly a verse from the Rig Veda, “In the beginning was God, with whom was the Word, and the Word was God.” Rig Veda
- The mantra, the one who recites the mantra, and the goal of the mantra (the inner Self) are one and the same.
- The Guru is the means.
The subject of meditation is not the breath, but That which is reading this page right now.
It is not an object to be gained. It was never lost.
Awareness itself is the space in which everything arises.
That is always already at Peace.
Your ideas about yourself arise in the space of the Self that you are.
You cannot see the one who sees.
In the trinity of the seer, the seeing and the seen, you are the seeing.
You cannot make an object of yourself to be known, it will always be less than what you are.
You are the Knower. I am That I am.
Everything arises spontaneously in the space that is the Self.
And you are That.
Everything arises in this Consciousness.
Everything is created, comes into being, is preserved for a moment.
Everything passes through the Consciousness that is present now.
The past is only a memory, the future an expectation.
Everything arises in the present, because you are here.
You have never been anywhere except here.
There is nothing outside of Consciousness.
We conceal and reveal this truth of our Self.
We can reveal this truth by the simple act of Being here now.
Be the Witness only.
This is the highest meditation.
Sit quietly for a few minuets and witness the breath.
The breath goes out with Ham and comes in with So.
Perform this japa while seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, talking, breathing, giving, taking, opening the eyes and closing them, and you will be doing nothing even while you are doing everything.
All your actions become offerings to the Lord.
When So’ham is attained, nothing more remains to be done.