S and I were not inclined to “follow”; we had throughout our lives pretty much done our own thing, gone our own way, and taken the initiative. We had done well in the world, through college, the Navy, the Foreign Service, and then self-taught ourselves to build a homestead out of the woods, from ground up. Everything we set our minds to do, we did. We considered ourselves adept, and we were self-sufficient unto ourselves. We were not inclined to sit in adoration while another played God. Thus, it was mysterious that we eventually found ourselves literally sitting at the feet of a real living guru who claimed to be God incarnated in the early 80’s, and one that was more simple than eloquent, and one who required nothing other than our honor and submission. Indeed, of us nothing was asked, despite the fact that most of his disciples around the world were expected to give most of their time, life and money to his enterprises.
We had first encountered Sri Chinmoy in Iceland, well before we had embarked seriously along the spiritual path, and while we were still in the Foreign Service with the Department of State. No doubt, the U.S. Embassy was not impressed with our curiosity! This was in the early 70’s, and the esoterica of other cultures was not easily accepted by the Embassy in those days. Why we went to hear him speak is unclear. I was doing serious Hatha Yoga at the time, and was interested in esoteric things, and the landlord of the house we rented there had a daughter who was a disciple of Chinmoy’s, so no doubt this had a bearing. At the time, both of us found him fascinating and beautiful in that he seemed to carry within him a certain peace and serenity that every human longs for. At the time, S in a group meditation was swept away, in a virtual vision, by Chinmoy’s accompanying consort, and the two of them, in a visionary meditative state, literally flew over the earth in ecstatic joy. Stefan reported that upon ceasing the meditation, he recalled vividly the experience of flying with her over the continent. Interestingly, this was and is experienced by many devotee’s of Indian teachers upon encountering them for the first time. Muktananda was well known for flights with disciples. I, instead, felt Chinmoy’s eyes bore clear through to my heart from across the huge auditorium in which he spoke. At that instant, space literally collapsed, and his glance penetrated as though he were beside me, or inside me. This latter experience was common with many who heard him speak.
Of course, at the time, we did not ask the most important question of ourselves, and that was, who experienced the ecstatic flying, who experienced the heartfelt glance? We didn’t even know who we were in that context! We would eventually come to understand that one can only experience what one already IS, even if one does not yet know that.
This particular insight is to my mind the most crucial and protective of all insights. It protects the individual from exploitation by the numerous gurus that abound in our western culture today. The western mind in particular embraces often, without discrimination, and with exuberance and naiveté, much esoterica and mystery simply BECAUSE our culture has so little esoterica and mystery left from its consumer oriented culture. We thus become great pawns in the religious sector, and it is a simple process for someone with more knowledge and expertise in this area to “convert” and draw those less knowledgeable into their sphere of influence. Add to this stew an individual teacher with a good grasp of the occult, and you have a potent mix. If we are fortunate, the individual under whom we place ourselves is benign, but instead, frequently, the corruption of power undermines the benevolence of the teacher, and the situation becomes one of misuse and exploitation of the disciple’s yearning for transcendence.
Experiences, both occult and mundane, after all is said and done, are simply an expression of who we are, what we believe, where we stand, whether conscious of it or not. That said, on a more mundane level, the magical moment that S experienced with his consort might be explained by the occult abilities that both Chinmoy and his consort claimed to be privy to. Suggestibility is a powerful mechanism as is hypnotism. Alternatively, instead, perhaps it was a true initiatory event, an introduction into the spiritual way. Initiation is a legitimate experience, whatever its mechanism, whoever transmits whatever it is that is transmitted, and whether or not it is even a transmittal. If the fruit is ripe for picking, there will arrive a picker. If our world is what we ARE, then everything occurs as it should and in a timely manner, and the players are incidental to the event itself. Still, all told, it is an experience only, whoever is the experiencer. I have come to realize that experiences, however sublime, are just experiences in time and space. Many initiations have occurred to millions of people throughout history, but few transform the human being to anything other than a differently clothed, and more benign person, perhaps, but still, decidedly human beings. Still, initiation can be transformative if it actually transforms the consciousness of the individual being initiated, even though that transformation may simply be a change in the conceptual mind of the initiated. That is, after all, the point to initiation. So differentiating between the occult imposition of one mind over another as opposed to a true immersion and transformation of consciousness through the union with one mind with another is a difficult task and one which is probably a guess at best.
We did not see Chinmoy for many years after that first encounter, and when we once went to hear him speak in Jamaica, New York, we were essentially snubbed and discouraged by his assorted disciples, who lived in the area that was essentially his ashram. We were not impressed, and thus remained at arms’ length from this individual for another number of years. We did read his books occasionally, and heard him speak once at a university, but we knew little else about him, except for the experiences we both experienced when first seeing him in Iceland.
Therefore, it was with mixed feelings that we decided to go to Boston in the late 80’s, to hear him speak once again. By this time, S and I had essentially left the public speaking arena and returned to our beloved woods on the dead end road in Maine, to take up where we had left off in our own search, when we embarked on the speaking circuit. That meant we started gardening again, writing, homesteading, and spending most of our time contemplating our interior lives, and living a life dedicated once again to the inner search. Why we decided to visit Chinmoy in Boston I cannot remember, although I vaguely recall that we had hit a roadblock, and our progress in the spiritual area had stopped short and we were probably in the midst of one of those dry, empty periods that occur in the search. There are many times that the seeker bogs down, and feels bereft of any lightness or joy, something akin I believe to the “dark night of the soul”, and she flops around in anguish trying to break out of that plateau, instead of sitting tight and waiting – in retrospect, probably a mistake. But then, there are never any mistakes in each of our personal journeys through life. Only change, and, perhaps, some delay. I believe it was one of these times that motivated us to go hear him speak. Possibly, it was just nostalgia for the magic of the first encounter. Most likely, impatience and lack of inner faith and self-knowledge.
In any case, we arrived in Boston, and we were this time treated with more attention and concern than previously. It had somehow come to the attention of Chinmoy’s disciples that we had been in the U.S. Foreign Service, and Chinmoy had a particular affection for diplomats and governmental personnel due to his efforts to encourage peace through government sponsors or mentors. There is now a good deal of controversy about his efforts in this area, and whether they were strictly ambition to make a name for himself, or truly efforts towards peace, but whatever his motives, and only he knows the answer to that, we were accorded special privileges, we assume, because of our past. Indeed, it was to become apparent that he still considered us to be with the Foreign Service, which was well beyond the time we left it, and why he never fully understood that we had left the Service, we never could discover, even after telling him so. It is entirely possible that he never had any idea who we were, other than contacts, or perhaps he didn’t care?! The latter presumption would be ideal in the widest sense, because it substantiates my position that none of us is who we think we are, nor any of us significantly unique in the fullness of life. Rather we all flow within the waters of life, space and time, we all contribute to the river itself, ARE the river all together.
Our visits to Sri Chinmoy would cover some five years’ time, and it was a curious relationship that we had with him. We never truly joined his group, yet he permitted us access to all his group’s events. He would grant us one on one talks with him, and one could truly call it “audience” as it was arranged and timed. He sometimes seemed to know who we were and sometimes he did not. In other words, he was very accessible to us, unlike, in some ways, his approach to others. He gave me a sari to wear, the costume that his disciples were expected to wear in his presence, but I never wore it because something stopped me from doing so, and indeed, I had a terrifying dream of that particular issue, which confirmed my refusal to don one. Likewise, he bestowed a white tie upon S, suggesting that he too, as all male disciples of his did, wear white in his presence, which S also abstained from doing. At the time, we both considered this to be a refusal to submit, an egocentric act, a refusal to become a non-entity in the herd of disciples. In addition, while on the surface, it might have been, I believe it was a deeper suspicion and caution against groups of all kinds, the herd mentality, the comfort and danger of exclusion and specialness conferred upon the group by virtue of their exclusiveness. Even then, we knew instinctively that the process is an individual, lonely one, ultimately ONE ONLY, and to join, adhere, confirm, support, imbibe, express, and in all other ways embrace dogma of any kind, no matter how refined or how apparently holy, was a great danger to the free spirit.
He did not bestow Indian names on either of us, something neither of us would probably have accepted, nor did we wish it. And yet, there was one time when I approached him with a flower, that I fell to my knees in tears at his feet. It was spontaneous and real and a heartfelt submission, something I had never done to another human being before – except perhaps within my marriage to my husband -- and it was something that intellectually and emotionally was not within my character to do in so public a manner and to a relative stranger. In that respect it was an ultimate surrender for me. At the time this occurred, I was not so much overcome by his presence, as I was overcome by the necessity to submit, to anything, or anyone, that personified the spiritual process. He was incidental, in other words, to the entire event. Or he was a totem for my own personal process. This understanding is to my mind the whole purpose to any individual icon that represents a power greater than one’s conceptual self. Its usefulness is only in surrender to it, and ultimately, that surrender is surrendered as well if you don’t stop there!
Whatever can be said about this man -- and just prior to and after his death, much has been said which is negative -- he was an icon for both S and me, as an externalized image to which we could safely submit ourselves. He personified for us submission. In addition, while we were told he was an incarnation of God, we never truly considered him to be such, other than a teacher, and possibly a realized one. I do not believe the latter to be true anymore, however. Whatever his flaws, and even with those flaws, he was useful to us in our own journey in that he supplied a real live guru of the kind that one can submit physically, in the real world, to. It is easy to submit to a dead one, the mind can play all kinds of games with that kind of submission, but to a living being, submission, if truly submission, is without excuses or camouflage. It is both humbling, even humiliating, and freeing from self-justification. It may be essential upon the path, but it can be a double-edged sword and full of danger if the sword is not walked futher.
There was one very interesting moment shortly before we ceased seeing him ever again, and that was when S and I spoke to him privately while he waited for his chauffeur to pick him up. He was uncharacteristically completely alone, without all his bevy of disciples about, including his ever present ubiquitous and closest disciples, and S asked him directly, among other topics, if there were a way to discern between true spiritual yearning and aspiration and personal ambition which might be in the guise of spiritual ambition. This was a particularly important question for S’s own personal process. At that moment, he turned away and did not answer, and essentially dismissed us by virtue of his turning aside. It is of interest that his own teacher, the Mother, the consort of Aurobindo and the director of Aurobindo’s ashram in India, had suggested that he had excessive ambition, and that comment was not considered a compliment. We were to learn this much later after this event occurred. Upon discovering this, we concluded that as all things are teachings, and all things are externalized concepts of and for the conceptor, here was an archetype of one of those teachings. And one in particular, the craving of ambition, that we had to learn, and possibly, so too did he. If the world is but an expression of “occasion”, then all things, all thoughts, every bit of it contributes in kind to all other bits, and each is served equally at the same moment. In other words, in the end, we are all talking to ourselves!
Sri Chinmoy gave us both a great gift, and that was the opportunity for us to surrender to another human being, one that was to our eyes, spiritual, and one that advocated and personified the submission of oneself to a higher being or concept personalized, without requiring anything in return. In this respect, he himself was incidental, and essentially, unnecessary viewed from my present perspective. Nevertheless, the submission was essential. We were equally fortunate that this man did not consume us or insist, as he did his disciples, that we were to give up our discernment and capacity to discriminate. We walked a thin line with this man, and yet, he permitted it. Or did we all permit it together, hand to hand, arm in arm? Indeed, was there anyone there to permit it?
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The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers........Wordsworth
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers........Wordsworth