Baba Muktananda – The first hundred years.
By Mark Edwards
My connection with Baba began in the 1970s at a satsang at the Fremantle Pottery Studio of Joan Campbell. Campbell, who had visited Baba in India, was clearly deeply affected by him. Her rustic pottery studio was adorned with photographs of Baba and his guru. The combination of incense, puja items and the beautiful chanting while sitting cross legged on the floor created an exotic and mysterious ambience which was at once both foreign and oddly familiar.
A deep curiosity about Baba was evoked and within few years I found myself sitting in an Indian bus, travelling down the dusty, bumpy road leading to his ashram. My initial visit to Baba’s ashram opened me in a way I could never have imagined, redefining my most fundamental ideas about who I was.
Baba’s central teaching that true spiritual progress occurs through the grace of a Guru raises the thorny issue of how to distinguish a true Guru from an ordinary teacher. According to Baba, a mark of true Guru is that he causes an internal revolution in the seeker. This inner revolution can be a challenging and unsettling process. While it may include peak experiences of blissful clarity and expanded consciousness, a range of confronting emotional and psychological experiences are also commonly reported.
When asked what was more effective for spiritual development, intense austerities or spending time with the Guru, Baba laughingly replied that spending time with the Guru is the most intense austerity. While Baba was perhaps being flippant with this answer, it is certainly true that being with Baba was a rich experience but not easy. It is difficult to define why it was so challenging. Certainly Baba demanded adherence to discipline. One Australian who visited Ganeshpuri in the 1970s returned describing the ashram as a spiritual concentration camp. Baba joked that he was known as the ‘military swami’ because of the intense discipline he demanded.
But in my experience, the discipline was not the hardest thing. Certainly being in India required adjustment but that too was manageable. No, for me, the greatest challenge was the unending intensity of the inner process precipitated by Baba’s company. It was as though so much went on inside during every day in the ashram that often it felt almost unbearable while, simultaneously, it seemed the most extraordinary, compelling and worthwhile experience I could ever hope for.
While being tossed around by this extraordinary inner process, the daily contact with Baba played a special transformative role, offering hope, inspiration and love all in one. There were many aspects to Baba. Sometimes he would sit silently radiating a stillness and awesome other worldly power. In those moments, it was as though he had ceased to be human. But there was also the warm affectionate Baba of intimate moments, laughing and joking, putting people at ease with childlike delight.
Darshan times with Baba involved an unmistakeable element of adventure. I never knew which aspect of him to expect. Walking towards Baba, it felt like something was being stripped away, creating a psychological nakedness with nowhere to hide. Baba seemed to see through me, ignoring the personality I thought I was and connecting directly with something more real. Usually he did this without saying a word.
Baba seemed unfailingly to respond directly to my inner state. If I was contracted or fearful as I approached him, Baba would look away, perhaps to study a book or to inspect a possible blemish on the floor; anything but look at me or acknowledge me. On other days when I was in an expanded and open emotional state he would smile broadly, nod and look directly into my eyes. It seemed like a continual reinforcement of his teaching that the world is as we see it; that the only change required is to our inner perception.
Being with Baba, a plethora of teachings would continually spill forth. He had a wide knowledge of yoga and its various traditions and philosophies and was also conversant with Ayuruvedic medicine. He spoke and wrote about a range of practices and approaches to sadhana, and he was insistent about the effort we should make. From this array of teachings, one central plank seemed to stand out, namely that we should meditate every day. This became the one enduring teaching from my time with Baba.
Looking back, it has indeed been a great blessing. As my life unfolded; marriage, babies, career, mortgages and all the other stuff, this central teaching stayed fresh. Daily I would set aside time to meditate. Meditation became my inner refuge, a place to return to, to connect with something deeper inside and to stoke the process commenced by that initial contact with Baba.
Whether Baba initiated the meditation revolution he intended, I can’t say. For myself, my first visit to his ashram initiated an inner revolution inspiring me to turn within, a practice reinforced by an enduring reverence for Baba and the lineage he represents. Gauging from the level of enthusiasm and energy generated around the world by his centenary celebrations, I would say Baba’s impact on the world is by no means spent.
Following in the footsteps of bliss.
by Claude Pezet
It was in the autumn of 1973 while studying at university that a unique, close encounter with the ‘Fourth Way’ completely shifted and realigned the tectonic plates of my life.
At the time I was researching a project on the sublime cave paintings from Ajanta. I was captivated by a particular image, of one of the bodhisattvas , or compassionate forms, of the Buddha. In this representation he delicately holds a lotus flower in his right hand while gazing contemplatively upon those gathered around him. Trained in Western iconographic religious art I nevertheless found myself deeply moved by the graceful, sensual yet deeply spiritual quality of this form. It was imbued with a masterful elegance and radiated an extraordinary presence, with its body seemingly filled with life giving force.
I found myself spontaneously drawn back to this intriguing 2000 year old image again and again for several days. And then it happened.
After working late one night on cataloging a selection of paintings I’d chosen for the presentation I finally went to bed. Before I knew it I found myself hailing a cab in New York City near where I’d lived for several years. A cab stopped and jumping in the back seat I was immediately struck by the appearance of the driver. He was diminutive yet somehow huge and was garbed in flaming orange including a beanie on his head. And whoever this character was he had a mischievous smile on his face. Before I could even complete the instructions for my destination this unusual person interrupted and said “No, you follow me.”
The taxi, or was it a chariot, quickly accelerated at enormous, dizzying velocity. We seemed to be flying away from all that was familiar and quickly arrived to a place unlike anywhere I’d ever been or even imagined. As we came to rest, this man led me from the vehicle into a world of soft, scintillatingly beautiful blue light. Everything around me glowed with this tender, loving light. My mysterious guide and I were also glowing blue and I utterly filled with an indescribable sweetness and sense of total purity, as though all the confusion and self doubt that seemed to ordinarily inhabit my sense of identity were peripheral and no longer defining core qualities of my being. I felt totally at peace and at rest. My Friend for whom I had no name then said “This isn’t the goal, keep following me…” And before I could even reply we were off again.
We now seemed to travel without the aid of any vehicle and this time alighted in a realm of sound. The beauty of the music that surrounded us was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It made me feel intoxicated and totally still simultaneously. I felt that I would never want to leave this place, and of course, my Friend gently chided me “This isn’t the goal, keep following me…”
The final destination in this journey was a realm of sensation. The golden light present all around us seemed to produce a response of exhilaration as it touched my skin. My friend produced a golden chalice from which he drank and handed it to me. I drank deeply and as the ambrosia poured into my body it transformed into pure energy. I was overwhelmed with the potency of the fluid and fell unable to manage the intensity of the experience. Once again my Friend called to me “This isn’t the goal, keep following me, keep following me…”
I awoke. I was audibly repeating the phrase “Keep following me, keep following me…” My body felt so different from when I’d gone to bed a few hours before. It was as if every part of me had received the most delicious massage, all flowing like liquid. I marveled at the bizarre dream and had no context by which to try to understand let alone assimilate what had transpired. I got going as I was to meet with a friend that day for lunch who had just returned from touring India for a month.
We sat in one of the university cafeterias as he told me of his adventure. Gary had practiced meditation for several years and had travelled to India during the winter break to visit several meditation centres. He had been particularly impressed by the last of his stays, at an ashram near Bombay (now Mumbai) in a small village called Ganeshpuri. With 10 days remaining on his trip he had arrived at Shree Gurudev Ashram only to find that the Guru was away travelling with some of his students on a pilgrimage. Gary determined to leave that day but ended staying for the night…and the next and the next until nine days had elapsed. He said this place had such power and peace he couldn’t bring himself to leave.
On his final day before having to depart the teacher returned. Gary stood in line to meet him struck by the irony of the situation; he was going up to say goodbye not having had the opportunity to have studied with this teacher. Before he knew it he was weeping, how he loved this place, how could he leave now? The teacher, who he called Baba looked at him and said “It’s ok. I’ll be with you. You will be fine.” Gary hadn’t said word to Baba. And he was fine. He was radiant. He leaned forward and showed me a picture of this Baba. It was the face of my Friend who had just visited and guided me on the most incredible journey I had ever undertaken.
Within 12 months I was sitting with Baba Muktananda and I remained. More than 30 years have elapsed since that night and over twenty years have passed since Baba passed away. I still sit with him even as the journey continues to unfold. And my Friend is here to guide and instruct with his ever present love, his words reverberating within “Go deeper still, this isn’t the goal. Keep following me.”