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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.

 

 
 
  EXPERIENCE
 

Autobiography of a Monk
By Shri Acharya Abhidhyanananda Avadhuta

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Under the Wing of My Guru

 

At 18, I was a dreamer ready for the romantic spiritual path of my guru-to-be. I longed for study with an enlightened master, such as the one described in Autobiography of a Yogi by Swami Yogananda. This book I read and re-read spellbound. I hoped that a formal training with a guru would enable me to solidify my teenage experiments with meditation and solve many typical adolescent problems, such as immaturity and need for approval and love.

Sincere prayers are always answered. Our first American neighbor turned out to be an Israeli woman who was a vegetarian and who had practiced hatha yoga and meditation for many years. Sarah was immediately attracted to my family -- we reminded her of her parents and recent immigrants she had seen in Israel. While my parents were suspicious and cautious of her, I was immediately attracted to her. She told me about meditation. Until that moment, I have never heard the term and did not know that my daily contemplative retreats into myself were a form of meditation practice. On hearing the word meditation, a shudder of recognition zipped through my body -- I had goose bumps, and my hair quite literally stood on its ends. Sarah introduced me to her teacher, who was a disciple of my guru-to-be. Never underestimate the Divine Providence in delivering the right neighbors...

I had been practicing meditation as taught by Sarah's teacher Steven for several months, when I began to feel that my life had no meaning or purpose. With emotional dramatics typical of adolescents I cried to God, imploring the Universe: "My life has no meaning or purpose -- will you please fix it?" All true steps on the spiritual path are taken from the point of desperation...

I had reached an important crossroads on the spiritual path, beyond which there was no return. When one starts to intently question one's life, one cannot turn back until the answer has been found.

My anxious prayer was answered immediately. God knows when we are not kidding (even if we are dramatic youngsters). The next day I was told of a meditation class at a chapel on the University of Pennsylvania campus. I was so excited! Yet getting hold of Ruth, the class instructor, was a lesson in patience... By the time I reached her, quite late in the night, I was frustrated and angry. I complained to her: "Here I am trying to become a real yogi and you are not answering the phone." Much later, she explained to me that she was teaching English to Vietnamese refugees for many hours a day for very little pay, and sometimes even as a volunteer.

There was a young man dressed in orange robes at the Ruth's class. On seeing him, I experienced another moment of instant recognition -- with shivers, hair-on-their-ends, and goose bumps. I knew at once that I would become like him. I was eager to received tantric initiation and he obliged me. He had very little time but I would not let him go -- I had so many questions. He barely had time to address the needs of a few more college kids (who would never show up again).

Over the next few months, as the orange-robed monk, slowly introduced me to the tantric tradition and teachings, the desire to become like him steadily grew in my heart and mind. I was attracted to the intellectual complexity of my master's philosophy and to his idealistic endeavors to change the world and to establish a moralist-controlled world government by the year 2005. His socio-economic theory, wherein he offered an alternative to both capitalism and communism, were especially fascinating for me, a young man from Soviet Russia who had no illusions about the limitations of the communist system -- or, for that matter, the capitalist one.

In the year of my initiation, I took a leave of absence from my math studies at the University to spend a semester in the nation's capital under the guardianship of my master's organization. I was living with five young men and a woman, all but one of whom were to choose the monastic path in due time. We published a newspaper inspired by my master's ideas and meditated, ate, and talked -- living in a near perfect harmony. That time in Washington was one of the most memorable periods of my life. For the first time, I was treated with respect and understanding and was loved for my dedication to the spiritual path rather than through the worldly hopes of others.

The first significant proof of the efficacy of tantra yoga practices came within one year of practice. Doctors were no longer able to detect scars left on my lung tissue by my multiple pneumonias. Another proof of my progress came when I was fingerprinted for US naturalization. When the official compared the new print of my right hand (the one that changes with spiritual growth) with the old one on file, she was stunned and quite suspicious, and she questioned me at length. They were obviously my prints, but the lines had changed drastically...

I wanted to go and visit my master in India directly after my initiation. But the Divine wisely stalled my plans until I had reached a certain level of spiritual understanding and emotional maturity -- the trip did not materialize until I had firmly decided to dedicate my life to my master and become a monk.

I was determined to undergo monastic training in India. Tantra is the product of India -- and a prospective teacher must become well acquainted with its culture of origin. I fully realized only much later the appropriateness of studying in India. My intimacy with Indian culture helped me to better understand tantra practice and theory. More importantly, studying in India helped me to avoid confusing tantra's deep spiritual teachings with irrelevant messages coming from Indian cultural fixations.

One summer day, just a few weeks after I graduated from college, I flew out to India with $200 in my pocket -- at 23 we are game for many an adventure. Providence provided a kind Bengali gentleman to talk to on the airplane. He not only offered a great conversation but also paid for a taxi that delivered me right to the door of my master's house. Calcutta was hot, humid, scary, and fascinating, and its people looked very poor.

As I was overcoming the initial shock, my master appeared. He was taking one of his daily walks. One look at his blissful face and it became obvious to me that I would not be able to understand his message without deeper skills in meditation. I decided to leave for Benares monastery (the training center) the next day. A few monks thought I should stay a bit longer near my master -- partly because they perceived me as a rich American kid they could easily milk.

The training center for monastic teachers (my master did not believe in non-teaching monks), was located in the outer environs of Benares (now called Varanasi) -- the "Jerusalem" of Hindu thought, worship and charity. The city, which is considered the abode of saints, thieves and widows, is sacred to Lord Shiva -- a major tantric deity. The atmosphere in the city was very special. The signs of serious spiritual practice and attainment were everywhere and complemented the worldly charm of the most ancient continuous settlement on the planet.

One local raja donated an old, dilapidated castle, once infested with cobras and still surrounded by a moat half-filled with water. Inside the castle 50 bare-foot monks-to-be chanted, meditated, and fasted. They also grew vegetables in a garden -- which was cultivated both inside and outside the moat -- and prepared about 350 chapatis (Indian wheat tortillas) for lunch and dinner (and frequently for breakfast). The future monks spent most of their time in blatantly conspicuous bliss -- a result of a combination of potent tantric practices and restrictions on casual visitors.

Not everything was bliss, though. I was assigned to the worst garden plot -- a decision no doubt motivated by my trainer's tacit appraisal of my agricultural abilities. The plot was under a vulture's nest, which allowed for the birds' direct deposit right onto my only shirt while I tended my feeble vegetables, which did not serve well to improve my gardening skills. And there were daily beatings with a bamboo stick, which I and the other forlorn Westerner were thoughtfully spared. It was at times lonely in that strange culture, and few Indians had the education that I had or a mind that I was able to enjoy.

After I was duly trained and had taken the monastic oaths (on Christmas Day 1985 to be precise), my master sent me to Greece and Yugoslavia, and later to Turkey and Cyprus. Missionary work for his organization was a challenging but rewarding experience that encouraged learning how to rely on God daily and how to become a better teacher. While stationed in the Mediterranean region, I was regularly flying to India to visit my master in Calcutta. I made about twenty trips -- a staggering number -- unbelievable, if not for the entry-exit stamps in my passport.

I enjoyed Greece for its healing energy, and its emotional and intellectual depth. I cherished Yugoslavia for the spiritual urge and pride of its people; the language was easy to learn, as well, because it was so close to Russian. I still remember my lecture tours in Bosnia -- there I enjoyed the best hospitality I have enjoyed anywhere. I had no idea that the civil war was about to break out, which would break the country into pieces. And it still pains me that some of the people I met, befriended, and taught are probably now dead.

I was much attached to my master and his organization... My superior -- a wise senior monk -- once said to me: "Where else would you go?" He sensed my love and my very independent nature. He did not know that I would rather die than compromise with the Truth.

 

Copyright 1991-1999 Abhidhyan Yoga Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

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This page was published on Realization.org on May 25, 2000.


Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.