Sadasivanathaswami and Senthilnathaswami visited Toronto for the past two days with the primary purpose of spending some time with Dr. James George, who spent many moments with and was profoundly influenced by Yogaswami in the early 1960s when he was the Canadian High Commissioner to Ceylon. (A lifetime scholar and diplomat, he was at other times the High Commissioner to India and Iran as well.)
We embarked in the morning and ended up in his apartment in a tightly-secured and upper-crust building in the city, an apartment filled with ten thousand artifacts, most of them of a spiritual nature: thankas (old ones) covering the walls, at least the walls not covered with his vast library of religious and spiritual books. We set up to interview him about his time with Yogaswami near a window in his dense office, amongst computers and printers and papers and files.
We thought the morning would be a journey into history, capturing his times with Yogaswami. It was that, but far more. At 93, Dr. George is a bright light, capable of imitating Yogaswami's raucous laugh and powerful voice, inclined to take each question we asked and make it a reflection on life and truth and life's search for truth. Our queries would stop him and for a full minute he would look off, not so much into the distance as into the inner sky, then finally he would return with a gem, some insight into consciousness, some delightful comparison of George Gurdjieff, the Russian mystic who stressed the now and the Great I Am.
We don't yet have a transcript of our conversation, but we would like to share with you here a story directly from our latest book, The Guru Chronicles (now available for pre-order!). Dr. James George wrote the following account about his meetings with Yogaswami in Jaffna 50 years ago.
The Tamils of Sri Lanka called him the Sage of Jaffna. His thousands of devotees, including many Sinhalese Buddhists and Christians, called him a saint. Some of those closest to him referred to him as the Old Lion, or Bodhidharma reborn, for he could be very fierce and unpredictable, chasing away unwelcome supplicants with a stick. I just called him Swami. He was my introduction to Hinduism in its pure Vedanta form, and my teacher for the nearly four years I served as the Canadian High Commissioner in what was still called Ceylon in the early sixties when I was there.
For the previous ten years I had been apprenticed in the Gurdjieff Work, and it was through a former student of P. D. Ouspensky, James Ramsbotham (Lord Soulbury), and his brother Peter, that, one hot afternoon, not long after our arrival in Ceylon, I found myself outside a modest thatched hut in Jaffna, on the northern shore of Ceylon, to keep my first appointment with Yogaswami.
I knocked quietly on the door, and a voice from within roared, "Is that the Canadian High Commissioner?" I opened the door to find him seated cross-legged on the floor--an erect, commanding presence, clad in a white robe, with a generous topping of white hair and long white beard. "Well, Swami," I began, "that is just what I do, not what I am." "Then come and sit with me," he laughed uproariously.
I felt bonded with him from that moment. He helped me to go deeper towards the discovery of who I am, and to identify less with the role I played. Indeed, like his great Tamil contemporary, Ramana Maharishi of Arunachalam, in South India, Yogaswami used "Who am I?" as a mantra, as well as an existential question. He often chided me for running around the country, attending one official function after another, and neglecting the practice of sitting in meditation. When I got back to Ceylon from home leave in Canada, after visiting, on the way around the planet, France, Canada, Japan, Indonesia and Cambodia, he sat me down firmly beside him and told me that I was spending my life-energy uselessly, looking always outward for what could only be found within.
"You are all the time running about, doing something, instead of sitting still and just being. Why don't you sit at home and confront yourself as you are, asking yourself, not me, 'Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?'" His voice rose in pitch, volume and intensity with each repetition of the question until he was screaming at me with all his force.
Then suddenly he was silent, very powerfully silent, filling the room with his unspoken teaching that went far beyond words, banishing my turning thoughts with his simple presence. In that moment I knew without any question that I AM; and that that is enough; no "who" needed. I just am. It is a lesson I keep having to relearn, re-experience, for the "doing" and the "thinking" takes me over again and again as soon as I forget.
His story continues:
Another time, my wife and I brought our three children to see Yogaswami. Turning to the children, he asked each of them, "How old are you?" Our daughter said, "Nine," and the boys, "Eleven" and "Thirteen." To each in turn Yogaswami replied solemnly, "I am the same age as you." When the children protested that he couldn't be three different ages at once, and that he must be much older than their grandfather, Yogaswami just laughed, and winked at us, to see if we understood.
At the time, we took it as his joke with the children, but slowly we came to see that he meant something profound, which it was for us to decipher. Now I think this was his way of saying indirectly that although the body may be of very different ages on its way from birth to death, something just as real as the body, and for which the body is only a vehicle, always was and always will be. In that sense, we are in essence all "the same age."
After I had met Yogaswami many times, I learned to prepare my questions carefully. One day, when I had done so, I approached his hut, took off my shoes, went in and sat down on a straw mat on the earth floor, while he watched me with the attention that never seemed to fail him. "Swami," I began, "I think…" "Already wrong!" he thundered. And my mind again went into the nonconceptual state that he was such a master at invoking, clearing the way for being.
Though the state desired was thoughtless and wordless, he taught through a few favorite aphorisms in pithy expressions, to be plumbed later in silence. Three of these aphorisms I shall report here: "Just be!" or "Summa iru" when he said it in Tamil. "There is not even one thing wrong." "It is all perfect from the beginning." He applied these statements to the individual and to the cosmos. Order was a truth deeper than disorder. We don't have to develop or do anything, because, essentially, in our being, we are perfectly in order here and now--when we are here and now.
Looking at the world as it is now, thirty years after his death, I wonder if he would utter the same aphorisms with the same conviction today. I expect he would, challenging us to go still deeper to understand what he meant. Reality cannot be imperfect or wrong; only we can be both wrong and imperfect, when we are not real, when we are not now!
On and on it went, question after question, all captured on our camera for you to enjoy later. Mostly he was thoughtful and faithful to the task of describing his times with the Lion of Lanka (who did roar, he said), but now and again he exploded: his voice rising, his eyes gleaming, his body leaning forward to convey a moment when Yogaswami said something potent to him. It was so evident that those moments are still alive in this wonderful soul, that, as he told it, they changed his life and his family's too.
Here is a man who can field the most sophisticated question on consciousness, who can set two spiritual traditions side by side and compare them, who can speak of presence with perfect presence, a kind of soft intensity you rarely encounter, who knows what not knowing is, who believes the universe is ultimately perfect and yet bemoans the "rise of negativity in all spheres." Fun, gracious, "What would you like in your tea?" humble, "I hope your journey here from Hawaii has been worth these small remembrances," generous "Taxi? No, let me take you back to your hotel."
Our interview with Jim, as he insisted we call him, turned out really to be a satsang of kindred souls, of those who explore consciousness and who strive as often as possible, as much as possible, to heed Yogaswami's stern yet utterly simple instructions: "Summa iru. Just be."