In case a Guru takes you under his wings to guide you and protect you–it is a rare blessing.—Swami Chinmayananda
The universe is constantly providing us with the right circumstances for our inner growth. But, we usually only realize this on hindsight.
Although was twenty years before I connected with my Guru, the universe choreographed our meeting much earlier.
In 1993, I started taking my oldest son for a children’s value-based program run by the Toronto centre of the Chinmaya Mission, a worldwide spiritual organization.
The Chinmaya Mission is named after Swami Chinmayananda, a great master and exponent of Vedanta, the spiritual science of life. Swami Chinmayananda left his physical body in 1993, at the age of 77.
By 1999, I had two other sons and my youngest one was five. He was then able to join the weekly Sunday classes.
Little Taste of Vedanta
With all three of my children in the program, I began attending the adult study group, which ran concurrent to the children’s program in another room.
We used to watch videotapes of spiritual discourses by Swami Chinmayananda. He had a powerful presence, even in his videos. Most of what he taught flew right over my head, but for some strange reason, it just felt good to hear him.
Sadly, my participation in the adult’s class ended a few weeks after I joined. My oldest son, who was nine, started to complain about going for classes on Sunday mornings. The only way I could convince him to stay was by joining as a volunteer teacher in his class.
Although I couldn’t continue with the study group, I had tasted Vedanta, and I was interested to learn more.
I started reading some books on my own. But, as a stay-at-home mom with three playful boys with endless energy, finding some quiet time alone wasn’t easy. I often ran into the bathroom to read.
Strange New Feelings
Being part of the Chinmaya children’s program brought me ample new friends. There were many people who had met Swami Chinmayananda in person, attended his lectures, and had many personal anecdotes to share.
I was not one of them. I had never met him in person.
In 2001, a strange thing started to happen. Whenever I heard people talk about their personal experiences with Swami Chinmayananda, something inside of me would stir, and my eyes would well up in tears. It was both baffling and embarrassing at the same time.
My old yearnings for a guru surfaced. I wondered…could he be the guru for me?
The rational side of me denied it. He spoke great wisdom, but I didn’t understand the high-level teachings. I just couldn’t relate to him.
But then, why was I reacting emotionally to stories about him? I longed for some quiet time away from my busy duties as a mom to figure it out.
The opportunity to do that soon appeared.
In 2001, my kids registered for a two-week residential summer camp in Rochester, New York. Since it was their first time away from home, I volunteered to help in the kitchen for a week to placate my mom fears, and to settle them in. Luckily, they took to it like ducks to water.
Soon afterwards, I found out that there was a two-week Chinmaya spiritual camp for adults taking place in an ashram in the little town of Piercy, California in July 2002. Wonder of wonders, the dates coincided perfectly with my children’s summer camp dates of that year.
Yes! Finally, I could get away by myself! I knew from their first year at camp that the boys would be fine.
My husband was totally supportive of me even though it meant sacrificing our time together alone. He knew this was important for me.
I had never been to a spiritual retreat, and knew next to nothing about the place, or what to expect. But I was excited nonetheless.
The teacher would be Swami Tejomayananda, the global head of the Chinmaya Mission and the theme was Meditation. I had enjoyed attending his lectures in Toronto in 2002, and was looking forward to learning under him.
California, Here I Come!!
In the months leading up to July, even though I still felt strangely emotional when my friends spoke of Swami Chinmayananda, I continued to question if he was the right one for me.
I decided that I would find out once and for all when I got to Piercy. As I prepared to leave, however, I was torn apart by conflicting thoughts – “Am I doing the right thing?” “What if he’s not the one?” “My whole trip would be for nothing.”
Putting aside my fears, I flew into San Francisco Airport where I joined a busload of cheerful camp delegates who put me at ease. It was a scenic 5-hour drive to the ashram in Piercy. In the last hour or so, the roads were lined with breathtakingly beautiful giant redwood trees.
When we arrived, we got some terribly disappointing news—Swami Tejomayananda would not be there. As he was about to board the plane from Calgary, Canada, to San Francisco, he was stopped by U.S. immigration officials and denied entry as he didn’t have the right teaching visa.
He had flown into the U.S. to teach many times before without that particular visa, but it was just months after the 9/11 attacks and security officials were being very cautious. So, he was sent back to India from the Calgary airport.
The news threw me into turmoil and made me feel like an abandoned child in an unfamiliar place. Swami Tejomayananda was the only stabilizing factor in my trip. I was hoping to get some private time with him to share my feelings and seek his advice. But now he was not going to be there.
Piercy is a place where Swami Chinmayananda had often visited and lectured. So, there was a cottage designated for him. It is a small building with a living room, dining area and bedroom.
The living room still had many of his books sitting on shelves. Visitors could pick up any book, and sit on the sofa to read.
Feeling very unsettled and wishing that Swami Tejomayananda was there, I reached for a book of quotes by Swami Chinmayananda. I opened it in the middle. My eyes widened in surprise as I read these words:
Avoid comparison trips! What you have now is HIS thoughtful gift. Stop crying for what you have not. You don’t really need them. When needed they will be given.
I felt as if he was speaking to me.
Things soon stabilized for our camp. Swami Shantananda from the New Jersey centre, was asked to fly in and lead our studies. He is an experienced teacher who infused his lectures with everyday examples and humour. He arrived three days later.
We settled into a stimulating routine that started at 6 am and ended at 9 pm. There was early morning meditation and yoga, three daily lectures and lively group discussions. There were scenic walks and informal gatherings in the evenings. I was enjoying the studies and my camp mates.
Some people used to go into Swami Chinmayananda’s cottage in the morning and in the evening to sit in silence on the carpeted floor of his bedroom for meditation. There was a writing desk and a chair draped with an orange cloth with his photo on it. The furniture was just as it had been when he was present in person.
In the afternoons, the cottage was empty because people stayed in their rooms to rest or read. I, on the other hand, spent them in the cottage—mostly crying.
I would go into the bedroom and sit on the floor by his footstool and talk to him in my mind. I always had the same question: “Gurudev,“(that’s how we address Swami Chinmayananda) “are you my guru?” I would ask earnestly.
My heart ached for an unequivocal “yes’ but it never came.
The days were passing by quickly and we would soon be leaving the tranquil atmosphere of the ashram. My greatest fear was the thought of returning to my busy life and children without knowing if he was the one. I yearned for him to tell me. The anxiety was tearing me apart.
Then, just two days before the end of our stay, I went into his bedroom again. As usual, I sat on the floor in front of the chair. I was extremely distressed, feeling the pressure of time running out. I desperately needed an answer before I left. “Gurudev, please, please tell me if you are my guru,” I pleaded over and over again.
Suddenly, I found myself becoming very quiet and still. I closed my eyes and spontaneously found myself transported back in time. I experienced a whole life review—much like what I had read about from people who had near-death experiences.
In my mind’s eye, I saw my life, right from the time I was a little child, my growing up years, my parents, the major events and people in my life including my father’s death, the ensuing 20-year search for my guru, my marriage, moving to Canada from Singapore, the children—everything—until the present moment.
I realized that my life had been divinely guided and that everything had happened at the right time, and just the way it was meant to be.
Then, an overpowering feeling swept over me. It was a shower of grace that infused my body from head to toe. I felt chills down my spine and goose bumps all over. With it came an undeniable knowing that Swami Chinmayananda was indeed my guru. Every part of my being knew it.
I couldn’t hold back my emotions. They burst out like a broken dam and I found myself sobbing. I kept repeating: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! over and over again.
Even as I said it, I was surprised at the depth of my feelings. The gratitude was overwhelming.
As I experienced the heartfelt gratitude, I felt an intense desire to do something to demonstrate it.
Being a foot reflexologist, the first thought that came to me was: “Massage his feet.” And so, I pretended that he was sitting there on the chair and I was massaging his feet.
I gently stroked his feet and lower legs as tears of joy and relief ran down my face…
Meeting my guru in Swami Chinmayananda was a major turning point in my life. I felt unbelievably calm and centred. Our meeting gave me strength and direction.
I say we “met” because I hadn’t “found” him. He had found me years earlier, and was patiently waiting for me to be ready to meet him.
You may think that since he wasn’t physically present, what I experienced didn’t really happen. Maybe I cooked up the whole experience in my mind because it was nearing the end of my stay in Piercy and I wanted it so much.
Personally, I never doubted the deep inner knowing that Swami Chinmayananda was my guru, but I did doubt that he was there in the room with me. That doubt was blown away the very next day.
I came across a photograph that made me do a double take. I stopped in my tracks and my heart raced with excitement when I saw it: It was a photograph of his feet.
It was the very same feet that I had “seen” while massaging the day before! The same thin legs and narrow feet. He really was there! And I really did massage him.
His Vital Presence
It’s been many years since that day in Piercy. Gurudev continues to be a vital presence in my life.
Even though I never met him in person, I meet Him everyday through prayer, reading and contemplating on his teachings through his books and lectures. I stay connected with him through his disciples who continue to carry on the light that he ignited.
It doesn’t matter that he’s not here in person. As Ram Dass puts it: I hang out with my guru in my heart.
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