Thoughts and Memories, an Introduction to "My Past Life"
- The morning after Guru's beloved friend, Dr. Cher, died, the Master asked one of his students to drive him to Bayside. He went for a long walk by himself, in spite of the fact that he was sad and was not in the best of health. An old Chinese lady approached him and said, "You are not well!" Guru agreed with her. Then, the lady lifted up her walking stick and pointed it at him, saying, "I give you energy! I give you energy!" Guru told us that after she gave him "energy" he actually felt much worse. But he still appreciated her kind efforts. He saw many other Chinese people that day, and he said that it was Dr. Cher's soul who was bringing them to Guru, so that he could feel the sweetness of the Chinese people. This took place around early 2001, and from reading Guru's books I can testify that Guru remembered Dr. Cher for the rest of his life.
The theme for this issue of Inspiration-Letters is "My Past Life". I suppose that could be interpreted in many ways. When I think of how much Guru loved Dr. Cher and how fondly he remembered him, I think of Guru honoring the souls that have passed on. At every Peace Concert the Master ever gave, he sang songs in honor of his own Guru, the great Sri Aurobindo. That's just one example.
"My Past Life" could also refer to the life I lived before I encountered Sri Chinmoy, before I started practicing spirituality. I had so many problems! But, after ten years meditating with Guru, he gave me the name "Mahiruha". The basic meaning of this name is two-fold: "speed" and "aspiration". In other words, if I identify myself with my soul's quality of aspiring speed or fast aspiration, then I don't have to worry or obsess over my difficulties. By aspiring sincerely and self-givingly, the problems that once loomed so large in my life will not be able to forever intimidate me.
Recently, I've been enjoying the wonderful song by Mumford and Sons, called "Ghosts That We Knew":
"So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
And I will hold on with all of my might
But the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
And we'll live a long life "
To be honest, I don't necessarily know where I'm going and somehow that makes me happy. As I have no preconceived expectations about the goal, I will suffer no disappointment when I get there. I am just trying to survive as a spiritual seeker in the secular world, and that is fine. Sometimes survival itself is enough, and a cause for joy.
As Sri Chinmoy once wrote,
I am not dreaming
Of a hope-victory-life.
I am just dreaming
Of a hope-survival-life.
I like Orson Scott Card's remarkable debut novel, "Ender's Game." It's an interesting read and presents some unusual insights into the way children think. I like his autobiographical introduction most; it's the best part of the book. He talks about Bruce Catton's wonderful Civil War history Army of the Potomac, and how Catton convinced him that it was changes in leadership that transformed and informed McClellan's "magnificent army" so that " the army seemed to change from a pack of noble fools at Fredricksburg to panicked cowards melting away at Chacellorsville, then to the grimly determined, stubborn soldiers who held the ridges at Gettysburg, and then, finally to the disciplined, professional army that ground Lee to dust in Grant's long campaign."
Such wonderful writing! I especially like the line "grimly determined, stubborn soldiers who held the ridges at Gettysburg."
I think the only way for me to stay on the spiritual path throughout my life is to feel that my prayer, meditation and service mean something. I will not "hold the ridges", come what may, if I can't keep hope alive in my life that I can eventually become an excellent seeker and achieve something spiritually unique. Why should I? Why fight valiantly in a losing cause? I stay on this path because I feel that my efforts are worthwhile. My insecurity or self-doubt might try to pour cold water on my optimism, but I still continue. Maybe the impossibly courageous soldiers at Gettysburg would have identified with this aphorism by Sri Chinmoy:
No matter what happens,
Do not lose hope,
For once hope is gone,
Everything is gone.
(From "Seventy-Seven Thousand Service Trees", book 13)
Often I ask myself, over and over again the same questions:
What do I want from my life? Where am I going? Should I start thinking about how much money I need or what I am going to do twenty years from now? Is it enough to just aspire and to read spiritual books and listen to great music and go to the art museum , or no, do I have to listen to the voice of reason which says "No! You MUST accumulate a hundred thousand dollars in savings and you MUST have a retirement plan and you MUST plan for your future life because who is going to take care of you when you get old and decrepit? Are you not out of your mind for not having some kind of plan B?!!"
To which, I quietly respond to my inquisitor-mind:
"Well, I guess I must be out of my mind because I am poor and happy and have nothing and will perhaps never have nothing and that's OK. I have a little room, packed with hundreds and thousands of books and LPs. It's my cramped style. It may not work for everyone, and it does not always work for me, but it works alright for me, for now. And that is enough."
Let it be. There's wisdom in those words, more wisdom than I can fathom on a Friday night. Let it be. `Let it be' sounds better than `Plan B'. Give yourself the freedom to evolve and grow in the sunshine of the eternal now.
I like the Hindu epithet for God, the Highest Reality: Sat-Chit-Ananda.
SAT is That which Exists
CHIT is That which is Conscious of its Existence
ANANDA is That which is Happy
That is God, the supreme reality, the absolute truth-
It is. It knows that It is. It is happy.
That is God, the supreme simplicity.
Through meditation and prayer, I feel I am slowly growing into that simple inscrutable integrity. I've always felt it is a privilege to walk along the spiritual path. A conscious and awakened life is the best opportunity for true happiness.
The theme for this issue, as I mentioned, is past lives. When we go deep enough into our soul-consciousness, however, we realise that there is no such thing as past and future lives. We are eternal children, and the cosmic spontaneity is absolutely our birthright. In Beethoven's late string quartets, and also in Bach's ruminative cello suites, I catch glimpses of God the spontaneous dreamer. I like what Sri Chinmoy has to say about music:
When I play music
I know for sure someone is there
To listen to my music.
No matter what music I play,
Whether heavenly or earthly,
Sublime or deadly,
There is someone to listen to my music.
There is God.
When God plays His Cosmic Music
Day in and day out from time immemorial,
I enjoy and fulfill
The strongest adamantine demands
Of my inconscience-sleep.
I sleep and snore and snore and sleep,
Nadir of universal futility.
(From the Wings of Light, part 11)
Sri Chinmoy was a very simple man. Maybe that is why his poetry is so easy to learn by heart. It comes from the heart of conviction and prayer and not from the mind of embellishment. I like the idea of how God listens to even our most ear-piercingly awful jam sessions, but we have no time to hear His Cosmic music, His soundless sound.
Recently we had a poetry night at the Chicago Sri Chinmoy Centre. As part of the program, the whole group read out Sri Chinmoy's classic poem, The Absolute, four times. I cannot describe the dignity, grace and silence that pervaded the room when we finished chanting. Surely, Sri Chinmoy's poems are a most excellent tool for meditation. I encourage any spiritual seeker to repeat this poem and to feel its amazing energy:
No mind, no form, I only exist;
Now ceased all will and thought;
The final end of Nature's dance,
I am it whom I have sought.
A realm of Bliss bare, ultimate;
Beyond both knower and known;
A rest immense I enjoy at last;
I face the One alone.
I have crossed the secret ways of life,
I have become the Goal.
The Truth immutable is revealed;
I am the way, the God-Soul.
My spirit aware of all the heights,
I am mute in the core of the Sun.
I barter nothing with time and deeds;
My cosmic play is done.
(From Sri Chinmoy's 1972 collection "My Flute")
There's a line in the Absolute that I especially like: "I am mute in the core of the Sun."
Maybe when I develop that kind of ineffable love for God, I will more fully understand this line. Right now, I can only recommend it as a mantra.
My past life. I had initially considered approaching this theme by writing a Star Trek spoof. In my treatment, I became Star Fleet's choice to succeed Picard as commander of the USS Enterprise, and then once he hands over control to me, I unceremoniously lock him in the brig, while I deliriously bark crazy directions to the surprised crew. Then, Mahiruha, my past life, would enter the scene, magically, and tell me that just because I'm the new captain of the starship, that doesn't mean it's right for me to abuse and mistreat the old captain and the crew.
But that story fell flat.
Sometimes I think I might have been Herman Melville. Really. Once I picked up a copy of Moby Dick, Herman Melville's masterpiece, and scenes from the book began swirling through my brain. I saw the whole story unfold before my mental vision, in absolute clear detail, as if I had intimately known the book in a past life. Of course, the story is pretty well-known and relatively easy to guess- there's a mad captain who's missing a leg, and who spurs his men to hunt some fantastical white whale, and, in the end, of course, the ship sinks and everyone dies. A chirpingly happy tale! Call me Ishmael!
I guess the fact that I take long walks along the coast of Lake Michigan without worrying about being ambushed by a whale, might leech away some of this theory's credibility. But there is one immortal line from "Moby Dick" that I love: `Meditation and water are wedded forever.' In fact, there are many lines in that book that sound out as mantras and can resonate in your heart for years. As D.H. Lawrence remarked, "It is one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world."
Here's a poem by Sri Chinmoy that touches on the ocean and the Eternal Now:
Hriday Gabhire Oi Dake Shuni
Yonder I hear in the depth of my heart
There shall be no problems,
No complications in my life any more.
From now on I shall be the child of light
In the ocean of life
And there my little boat is sailing,
Sailing with enormous delight.
My life is the game of hundreds of waves
In the great ocean of life.
And here is a simple poem from volume twenty-five of Sri Chinmoy's "Seventy-Seven Thousand Service Tree" collection that strikes me as relevant:
Is at once
Maybe this poem means that it is our hope that has brought us as far as we have traveled, and it is our hope that will continually push us forward, and on and on, to new heights and new horizons. It is the motive force in us, unquantifiable, precious.
In our own humble way, may we resemble those great soldiers at Gettysburg by standing our ground in the spiritual life, to one day bask in the delight of our own Self.