Monastery Twitter Updates for 2011-09-27

  • Delightful evening with the Tamil elders in Toronto, lots of Yogaswami tales shared. #
  • Today, after a little sightseeing in Toronto, our swamis are flying to San Francisco for three days of meetings, satsangs, activities. #
  • Si vous avez entendu quelqu'un parler en fran├žais avec un accent canadien, vous avez souri. #

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An Amazing Experience at Toronto's Vishnu Mandir

Our traveling swamis’ Monday afternoon was different. Off to the Toronto subway, to end at the Richmond Hill Vishnu Mandir of Dr. Budhendranauth Doobay, whose life was also changed by Gurudeva. A tour of the Canadian Museum of Hindu Civilization surprised us. It was a surprisingly well-designed series of exhibits. One entire room as filled with the charming home shrines that had been part of the "Meeting God" exhibit at the Sackler Museum at the Smithsonian, and the monks were responsible for this one. Years back we were approached by Stephen Huyler (Hinduism Today had done a major story on his book and this exhibit in Washington DC and later published significant excerpts from his book) who asked where his artifacts might find a permanent home. We connected him with Dr. Doobay, and there it was, fulfilled. We offered our gifts of our latest children's books (Hindu Children's Modern Stories series on the yamas and niyamas), and within three minutes the head teacher, Roopa, was there, saying this was exactly what they were teaching their 125 kids and asking if parents and teachers could buy more, where, how much, when?

But the most amazing part of the tour was the Cosmic Theater. We were ushered into a theater, about 30 feet in diameter, with a blue screen above us, spherical, like we were sitting inside a 30-foot-wide beach ball. In the middle of the floor a small fish-eye lens poking up through the white floor. Then suddenly it all came to life, and there followed the most delightful journey through the mind of Hinduism in the form of a full-wrap-around movie called "Cosmic Dance." To say this experience was powerful is to understate. To say it was cosmic would overstate, but between the two it was amazing. Essentially, a twenty-something Indian girl takes us on a journey of her reflections about Hinduism, with effects, and interviews with swamis and physicists and shamans, all speaking of the interface of Hindu cosmology and science. She dances and engages with others on the screen, and basically ends up convincing you this thing called Hinduism is really cool and important and special, and makes you proud to be a Hindu. The writing is perfect, the tone dead-on, the special effects clearly designed to play (with unnerving success) with your neural network. We were so taken by this film, we asked Dr. Doobay to give us an HD flat widescreen version, and he called the German gentleman who helped make the $400,000 film. We think this could be a great thing for all our visitors to see, and for Hindus to have on YouTube to see and point people to. Hopefully, he will make it happen. (Photo: A beautiful, intricate soapstone Nataraja in the museum.)

An important side note regards this building on the property of the Vishnu Mandir. Gurudeva envisioned that Hindu temples in North America should have homes for the elderly nearby, in the same compound, so that Hindu elders could be looked after, visit with each other, walk to the temple every day. He actively encouraged wealthy temple builders to make this happen, and Dr. Doobay listened, hiring a developer versed in building chain hotels such as Hilton Garden Inns to build just such a center. With 25 apartments, each of them now filled, Ananda Bhavan Senior Residences fulfills Gurudeva's vision--at least in Toronto. This is a fantastic accomplishment, and we commend Dr. Doobay for being a shining example of Gurudeva's instructions to put every bit of one's surplus personal wealth to work to fulfill Hindu Dharma.

Meeting an Old Friend of Yogaswami in Toronto

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."

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