Organizing the Monks
As often as the heart
Breaks — wild and wavering — from control, so oft
Let him re-curb it, let him rein it back
To the soul’s governance.
These words of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita offer valuable counsel for all stages of the spiritual journey. For it often happens on the path that selfish desires spring up from the subconscious mind with surprising vigor to attack one’s devotion. The devotee may be progressing steadily, confident that God is all he wants in life; then all of a sudden, worldly opportunity knocks and he thinks, “Here’s my chance — perhaps the only one I’ll ever get — to become a great concert pianist!”; or, “to acquire riches and worldly respect!”; or, “to make a great scientific contribution to mankind!”; or, “to marry my soul mate!” I’ve never seen such desires, if pursued as an alternative to selflessly serving God, end in anything but disappointment.
The concert pianist tires of playing for a fickle public. The would-be millionaire soon finds that life without inner peace is truly hell, especially if he has known soul-peace before. The hopeful scientist, particularly if he has high ideals, finds the world either indifferent to his discoveries or anxious to divert them to ignoble ends. And the devotee who forsakes spiritual practices to marry his “soul mate” is soon disillusioned, and, as likely as not, gets divorced after a year or two. (What, indeed, can human love offer to compare with the sweetness of God’s love, especially if one has experienced a taste of that love in his heart?)
Among my saddest memories are those of erstwhile devotees who, having left their spiritual calling, have returned to their former brothers and sisters on the path to show off their newly acquired worldly “wealth.” With what pride they display their new cars, new suits, new wives! You see in their eyes a will to explain away the good they have lost. You hear in their voices some of the self-conscious laughter of people who boast of getting drunk — as though hoping by noisy affirmation to silence the stern voice of inner conscience. Yet these erstwhile devotees sooner or later lose confidence in the choices they have made, and, too sadly often, in themselves for having made them.
Worst of all, inconstancy to God creates in them a pattern of further inconstancy. They end up rarely succeeding at anything, for they have spurned a quality that is necessary for success in any endeavor: steadfastness. Fortunate are those who, having realized their mistake, abandon it and return resolutely to the divine search. I have often admired one such devotee whom others asked how she dared to show herself again in the monastery, having once left it. “Do you expect me,” she replied vigorously, “to worship my mistakes?”
Few, alas, are blessed with such power of resolution. Of one fallen disciple, Master said to me, “He hasn’t known a day of happiness since he left here. I tried hard to save him, but his mind was set.
“We were together in New York,” Master continued, “when one day he told me he wanted to go to Philadelphia.
“‘To buy a wedding ring?’ I challenged him.
“Well, he couldn’t deny it. Instead, therefore, he tried to convince me what an angel the girl was.
“‘She isn’t at all what you imagine,’ I warned.
“‘You know nothing about her,’ he argued. ‘You’ve never even met her!’
“‘I know everything about her!’ I assured him.
“Well, he wouldn’t listen. But — he has since found out.” Master’s eyes expressed sorrow for his erring disciple. The disciple of whom he was speaking was Richard Wright, who had accompanied him to India.
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me,” wrote Francis Thompson in his beautiful poem, The Hound of Heaven.
Master told me many stories about people — students, chance acquaintances, and disciples. One that springs to mind was about Dale Wright, Richard’s younger brother. “Every time I tried to help him with advice, he whined to his mother, ‘Mommy, he’s scolding me!’ At last I gave him a toy airplane. He loved it! In fact, it settled him in his life direction: When he grew up, he became an aeronautical engineer.”
Devotion is the greatest protection against delusion. But that devotee can hardly be found whose devotion never wanes, who never experiences times of spiritual emptiness or dryness, or never feels the tug of worldly desire. What is one to do when what Master called the “karmic bombs” of restlessness and desire strike, particularly in the midst of a dry period? In preparation against such a time it is important to fortify oneself with regular habits of meditation, and with loyalty to one’s own chosen path. Once the habit of daily meditation has become firmly established, one can cruise steadily through many a storm, succumbing neither to despondency when the way seems hard, nor to over-elation when it seems smooth and easy. Loyalty to one’s chosen path nips in the bud the temptation to seek easier, pleasanter pathways to God — perhaps a more “sympathetic” teacher, or practices that make fewer demands of the ego.
“Loyalty is the first law of God,” our Guru often said. He was not referring to the superficial, sectarian loyalty of those who feel impelled constantly to prove to others how dedicated they are, and to discredit anyone whose views happen to differ from their own. (Such flag-waving is usually done to conceal subconscious doubts.) Master’s reference, rather, was to that calm acceptance of one’s own path which admits of no change of heart, which cannot be swayed by any obstacles that one might encounter on the way. This quality, alas, is not stressed in America nowadays, except perhaps as the need for steadfastness to the universal god: Ambition.
Ours is a tradition of pioneers, of men and women who repeatedly affirmed their freedom by pulling up their roots and settling in new territory. Even today, when there are no new lands on this continent to conquer, our youths are urged to court novelty, to follow the will-o’-the-wisp of “fulfillment” wherever it might lead them, and to pay scant heed to such inconvenient considerations as duty and commitment.
“They change jobs, wives, and gurus at a moment’s notice,” Master lamented. “How can they expect to get anywhere, when they keep changing directions so whimsically?”
“Quite a few heads will fall,” he had told me when speaking of the period of testing that began a few months before my trial at Twenty-Nine Palms. I grieved deeply when some of those I most loved left the ashram. I had known for some time that Boone was pulling away, but when Norman left, and then Jean, I was badly shaken.
Poor Norman! He loved God deeply, but moods of despondency came, and he allowed them to undermine his meditative routine to the point where he no longer had the inner peace to resist worldly delusions. But I knew he would always love God, and would continue to seek Him. In fact, now, after the passage of many years, I can say that he did so.
“This is the first time in many lives that delusion has caught Norman,” Master remarked sadly, adding, “Divine Mother wants him to learn responsibility. But wherever he is, he is with me.”
Norman visited Mt. Washington a few months later. “Do you remember how hard it was for me to get along with Jerry?” he asked me. “That was one of the main reasons I left here. Well, where I work now there are six men just like him!”
Over the years I have observed that when devotees try to avoid facing their karmic lessons, they only attract those very lessons again in other forms — often in larger doses!
Jean had great will power, but he didn’t concentrate enough on developing devotion. Master always taught us that we should meditate with no other motive than love for God, and the desire to please Him. “Mercenary devotion” he called meditation for personal spiritual gain. “‘Lord, I have given You so many Kriyas. Now You have to fulfill Your part of the bargain and give me so much realization.’ God never responds to that kind of devotion! He will accept nothing less from us than our unconditional love.” When, after two or three years of determined meditative efforts, high spiritual experiences still eluded Jean, he became discouraged. “I didn’t come here to rake leaves!” he was reported as saying the day he left. Alas, dear friend, had you forgotten the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, which say that, to the devotee who offers to the Lord even a leaf, a flower, with deep love the Lord Himself responds in person?
Of one of the women disciples, who during this period of intense testing left to embrace the path of marriage, Master commented sadly, “The desire for romance had attracted her for years.” She had been with Master for many years. Her karmic test must have come to a head shortly before she left, for he added, “Had she remained here just twenty-four hours longer, she would have been finished with that karma forever!”
Particularly awe-inspiring was his warning to one disciple, who later left: “Yours is a very complex karma. If you leave here now, it will take you two hundred incarnations to return to the point you have already reached on the path.”
But though Master said that it was not unusual for the fallen devotee to wander in delusion for one or more incarnations, he also said, and the Bhagavad Gita corroborates, that the good karma accrued from yoga practice would bring him back in the end. The masters of India have never seen life in the hell-vs.-heaven terms of orthodox Christian dogmatists. Nor, I am sure (though I cannot speak for all), have the saints of any religion.
“Is it possible, Master,” I once asked him, “for the soul to be lost forever?”
“Never!” he replied firmly. “The soul is a part of God. How could any part of God be destroyed?”
Most of those who left the work have remained devoted to Master even while pursuing, temporarily, the chimera of a few worldly dreams. They are, after all, his spiritual children, his destined disciples. Of only one who left did I ever know him to say, “He won’t be back; he was never in.” This was in response to a question of Jerry’s: “How long will it be before he returns to you?” But of another disciple (Swami Dhirananda), who for years after leaving Mt. Washington had rejected the guru, Master said, “He will never find God except through this instrument, designated to him by God.”
“People are so skillful in their ignorance!” Master exclaimed once in exasperation, after doing his best to help someone. And then, in a discussion with a small group of us, he said, “I see the spiritual path as a foot race. A few devotees are sprinting; others are jogging along slowly. Some are even running backwards!”
“The spiritual life,” he told the monks on another occasion, “is like a battle. Devotees are fighting their inner enemies of greed and ignorance. And many are wounded — with the bullets of desire.”
Loyalty, devotion, regular meditation, attunement with the guru — armed with these, the devotee will surely win the battle — not easily perhaps, but, in the end, gloriously.
“The more you do what your mind tells you,” Master admonished us, “the more you become a slave. The more you do Guru’s will, the more you become free.”
The difference between those who stayed in the ashram and those who left it seemed to boil down to two alternatives: the desire to live only for God, and the desire to cling still to the little, human self. Jesus said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it.” Leaving the ashram did not in itself, of course, constitute a spiritual fall. Nor was such a fall, when it occurred, necessarily permanent for this lifetime. It all depended on whether one still put God first in one’s life, and on whether one refused to accept even the severest setback as a final defeat. Whatever the circumstances, however, it was an unwise disciple who thought he could leave the ashram with impunity, certain that he would never forget God. “Delusion has its own power,” Master often warned us.
I was, as I said, deeply saddened when any brother left — particularly anyone who had inspired me in my own spiritual efforts. Being in charge of the monks now, I determined to do everything in my power to improve the steadfastness of those who were weak, by organizing our routine so that regular spiritual practice would no longer be wanting in any of their lives. Master encouraged me in these efforts. So also did a number of my fellow monks — though, unfortunately, not all of them. Human nature does not easily relinquish outer for inner freedom. I could see in the eyes of a few men the thought, “All right, so Master has put you in charge. That doesn’t give you the right to impose your will on us!” When I persisted in trying to organize them, they dubbed me sarcastically, “The monk.” It was no joy for me, either, to have to impose rules on them, despite the fact that my purpose was to carry out Master’s wishes and to strengthen them in their dedication to the path. My sadness, however, over those we’d lost goaded me to develop a routine that would prove a buttress for others in their times of trial.
“I don’t ask your obedience,” I told them, “but I know you want to obey Master, and I’d be disobeying him myself if I didn’t ask your cooperation. At the same time,” I added, “I pledge to each of you my cooperation in return. Anything that any of you may want from me I will do gladly, as long as it doesn’t conflict with our rules.” Thus, by placing myself as much as possible in a position of service to them, I gradually won their support. In my own meditations I often sang the chant, “O God Beautiful!” repeating over and over the line, “To the serviceful Thou art service.” Daily I filled my mind with the joyous thought that the only work worthy of a devotee is humble service to his Cosmic Beloved.
Ultimately my organizing efforts were successful. Thereafter, partly as a result of those efforts, more and more of the men who came to Mt. Washington remained on the path.
For me personally, however, there was a certain poignancy in these organizational struggles. For I sensed deeply that, the better I succeeded in them, the less Mt. Washington would remain for me the wonderful spiritual home I had found it when I first arrived there. In boarding schools as a child, particularly in this country at Hackley and Kent, I had developed a deep aversion to what I might call “group mentality”—the attitude that Rod Brown and I had chuckled over: “You’d better march in step, son, if you want the whole column to move.” To be instrumental in developing this mentality at Mt. Washington, though I knew it was needed, made me feel a little as though I had volunteered for a suicide mission.
It relieved me that Master, too, didn’t seem much in tune with the thought of organizing. Sister Gyanamata used to say, “You will never be able to organize the work so long as Master is alive.” Sometimes he would speak with longing of the informality of the life of a spiritual teacher in India, “roaming by the Ganges,” as he put it, “drunk with God.” He preferred the flow of divine intuition to the constriction of rules and regulations. By nature, indeed, I think he might have responded as Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian master, did when disciples complained to him about a certain eminently sensible, but generally inconvenient, rule that his own brother had imposed on the ashram community. The rule read, “Do not use the office as a thoroughfare. Walk around it on your way to the dining room.” Ramana Maharshi’s reply to the protesters was, “Let us leave this place. It no longer feels like ours!” (Needless to say, the offending rule was quickly abandoned.)
The cultural attitudes of India have never been particularly conducive to rigid organization. “Don’t make too many rules,” Master told me. “It destroys the spirit.” From him I imbibed a principle that has served me well, especially later in life, when I have been responsible for directing the spiritual lives and activities of many people. That principle is, Never, if possible, put the needs of an organization ahead of those of even one of its members. Service is the true and only purpose of any spiritual work.
In addition to organizing our routine at Mt. Washington, and to making a few rules (as necessary), I also developed a series of classes in discipleship, the notes for which are still used, I believe, by the monks and nuns; they are thought to have been written by Shraddha Mata. Master worked with me in all these efforts, and often talked about future directions in the work as they related to the monks.
During the last two years of his life Master also spent many hours with the monks, teaching, encouraging, and inspiring them.
“Each of you must individually make love to God,” he told us one evening. “Keep your mind at the Christ center, and when you work, all the time think you are working for God and Guru. Always: God and Guru — God, Christ, and Guru. Many come here, then talk and joke all the time — or play the organ [Master glanced meaningly at one of the monks]. They won’t get God that way! There are many mice living in the canyon on this property, but they are not developing spiritually! They haven’t God. Don’t think you can make spiritual progress by merely living here. You yourself must make the effort. Each of you stands alone before God.”
One evening he praised the spirit of those disciples (Daya Mata, Virginia Wright, and Miss Darling) who had long served him personally. During their early years at Mt. Washington, especially, they had often followed a full day’s work with all-night office labors as well.
“Sir,” I inquired, “didn’t they get much time to meditate?”
“Well, working near this body as they did, they didn’t need so much meditation; they evolved spiritually just the same. But you all must meditate more, because you haven’t that outward contact as much as they had.”
Often he urged us to be steadfast in our practice of Kriya Yoga. “Practice Kriya night and day. It is the greatest key to salvation. Other people go by books and outer disciplines, but it will take them incarnations to reach God that way. Kriya is the greatest way of destroying temptation. Once you feel the inner joy it bestows, no evil will be able to touch you. It will then seem like stale cheese compared to nectar. When others are idly talking or passing time, you go out into the garden and do a few Kriyas. What more do you need? Kriya will give you everything you are looking for. Practice it faithfully night and day.”
He added, “After practicing Kriya, sit still a long time; listen to the inner sounds, or practice Bhakti Yoga [devotion], or watch the breath in the spine [rising with inhalation; descending with exhalation]. If you eat your dinner and then run, you won’t be able to enjoy the meal; your enjoyment will be greater if you rest afterwards. Similarly, after doing Kriya don’t jump up right away. Sit still and pray deeply; enjoy the peace that you feel. That is how soul-intuition is developed.”
“Give both the good and the bad that you do to God,” he told us one evening. “Of course, that does not mean you should deliberately do things that are bad, but when you cannot help yourself because of habits that are too strong, feel that God is acting through you. Make Him responsible. He likes that! For He wants you to realize that it is He who is dreaming your existence.”
“Sir,” Clifford Frederick, one of the men present, addressed him one afternoon, “how can one become more humble?”
“Humility,” Master replied, “comes from seeing God as the Doer, not yourself. Seeing that, how can you feel proud of anything you have accomplished? Humility lies in the heart. It is not a show put on to impress others. Whatever you may be doing, tell yourself constantly, ‘God is doing all this through me.’”
One of the disciples was being tormented by self-doubt. “As long as you are making the effort,” Master consoled him, “God will never let you down!”
To Henry one day he said, as he was preparing to go out for a drive, “Whenever you see wrong in the world, remember, it’s wrong with you. When you are right, everything is right because you see God there. Perfection is inside.”
Vance Milligan, a young black boy, first came to Mt. Washington at the age of seventeen. Being not yet of legal age, he was forced by his mother to leave. As soon as he turned eighteen, however, he returned.
“How does your mother feel now about your being here?” Master asked him.
“This time she says it’s all right,” Vance replied.
“That’s good that you have her consent. Without it you should still have come, but with it is even better.
“Swami Shankara,” Master continued, “was only eight when he decided to leave home in search of God. His mother tried to prevent him. Shankara, reluctant to leave without her permission, jumped into a nearby river and allowed himself to be caught by a crocodile. He was highly advanced from past lives, and had the power to save himself. ‘Look, Mother,’ he cried, ‘I’m going to let myself be pulled under if you don’t give me your consent. Either way you will lose me!’ Hastily she gave her permission for him to leave home. He thereupon released himself from the crocodile, came out of the water, and left home to begin his mission.
“One day, many years later, he cried, ‘I taste my mother’s milk. She is dying!’ Hastening to her side, he helped her in her final moments, then cremated her body with a divine fire shooting out from his upraised hand.”
Master continued: “Another born sage who left home at an early age was Sukdeva. He was only six at the time, but he wanted to go in search of his guru. Byasa, his father, the author of the Bhagavad Gita, was fully qualified to be his guru. Sukdeva could see, however, that he was still a little attached to him as his son. As the boy was leaving, Byasa followed him, pleading with him to seek God at home.
“‘Keep away from me,’ the boy said. ‘You have maya’—as if to say, ‘You have a disease’!
“Byasa then sent him for training to the royal sage, King Janaka.”
I mentioned that young black boy, Vance. Vance told me one day, “Master said to me, ‘You should mix more with Walter. You don’t know what you have in him.’” I was gratified to receive, even indirectly, this personal encouragement from Master, for my self-doubts all too often suggested to me a very different reality.
I asked Master one day, “Sir, in what way ought one to love people?”
“You should love God first,” he replied, “then, with His love, love others. In loving people for themselves, rather than as manifestations of God, you might get attached.”
Speaking of love another time, he told us, “Human love is possessive and personal. Divine love is always impersonal. To develop devotion in the right way, and to protect it from the taint of possessive, personal love, it is better not to seek God above all for His love until one is highly developed. Seek Him first of all for His bliss.”
“Don’t joke too much,” Master often told us. “Joking is a false stimulant. It doesn’t spring from true happiness, and doesn’t give happiness. When you joke a lot, the mind becomes light and restless so that it can’t meditate.”
To one of the younger renunciates (1) he said one day, “You have devotion, but you are always joking and keeping the others rollicking. You must learn to be more serious.”
“I know it, Sir,” the young man replied sadly, “but my habit is strong. How can I change without your blessing?”
“Well, my blessing is there already. God’s blessing is there. Only your blessing is lacking!”
“It’s awfully hard to change my ways, Sir,” Jerry lamented one day, “but I’ll go on to the end of life.”
“That’s the spirit,” Master said approvingly. “Anyway the wave cannot leave the ocean. It can protrude farther from the surface, but it is still a part of the ocean, and has to return to it at last.”
“Never count your faults,” he once told us. “Be concerned only that you love God enough. And,” he added, “don’t tell your faults to others, lest someday in a fit of anger those people raise them against you. But tell your faults to God. From Him you should conceal nothing.”
Some of the monks grew discouraged at seeing the departure of others. Master once told them, “‘Devotees may come, and devotees may go, but I go on forever.’ That must be your attitude.” To those who, seeing others fall, doubted their own spiritual chances of success, Master said, “You have to live anyway! Why not live in the right way?”
The American “go-getter” spirit drew praise from him. “‘Eventually? Eventually? Why not now!’ That is the American way that I like. Seek God with that kind of determination, and you will surely find Him!”
Concerning some of the monks who had left, he told me one evening as we were walking about the grounds at SRF Lake Shrine, “Many will have their own centers someday — David, Jan, et cetera, et cetera.” I’ve often wondered whether he wasn’t hinting, rather, at my own future path of service to him in separation outwardly from his organization.
My own feeling was that the best possible place to serve the work was at Mt. Washington. One day, however, we were discussing our need for disciples with certain talents, and I mentioned Adano Ley, our center leader in Montreal, Canada. “Why don’t we invite him to come here, Master? He is doing very good work there.”
“If he is doing good work there,” Master replied somewhat indignantly, “why bring him here?”
These statements proved important for me years later, when circumstances forced me, as I’ve already hinted, to serve him in new ways, away from Mt. Washington and from SRF.
Work qualifications were never in any case the real reason he accepted anyone. We had long needed a printer. One evening I came to Master with what I thought was good news: “We have a new man for the print shop, Sir!”
“Why do you tell me that?” he demanded indignantly. “First see if a newcomer has our spirit; accept him only on that basis. Next, help him to develop that spirit more deeply. Only then think where he might fit in the work. Two others have already come and told me we have a new printer. I never ask people first what they can do. I see the spiritual side.”
“Believe me, Sir,” I replied abashedly, “that’s my interest, too. I should have expressed it. This man said to me, ‘I’m so glad you all pray here with such devotion.’ And I had him in my meditation cave for a long time, chanting and playing Hindu devotional recordings. He loved it.”
Master nodded approvingly. “That is what I like to hear.”
In fact, however, though he had yet to meet this new man, his response to my words was based on sure intuition. For the man left not many months afterward. Master then remarked to me, “I knew he wouldn’t stay.”
By the time of that new printer’s acceptance, Master had turned over to me the task of accepting new men disciples, while he himself spent much of his time in seclusion, completing his writings. It was difficult for me to face the fact that many who sought admission were simply not ready for our way of life. To me, Mt. Washington offered such a wonderful way of life that I wanted, if possible, to share it with everyone.
One student wrote from an Eastern state that he wanted to come, despite certain difficulties that he was having with his health. Master replied that, since his health was poor, he should not come. But the man wrote back pleadingly, “My doctor assures me I’ll be fine as long as I take regular medication.” Master was in seclusion when this letter came, so I answered it. The only objection to the man’s coming that I knew of was his physical condition; otherwise he seemed to me deeply sincere. Since this objection had been met, I wrote to tell him he could come and give our way of life a try.
When Master returned to Mt. Washington and learned what I had done, he scolded me, “That wasn’t my only reason for telling him not to come. It was simply the kindest reason. I knew he was not spiritually ready for our way of life.” He added, “You will see.”
Shortly thereafter the young man arrived. A short week later, he was gone.
I accepted one man who even I could see was not ready for acceptance. Despite a sincere desire to live spiritually, he was steeped in worldly habits. It was his strong desire to change that had moved me to take him; I simply hadn’t the heart to say no. For several months the newcomer applied himself earnestly, though he shook his head often in wonderment at the change his life had undergone. He didn’t stay long, but while at Mt. Washington he did improve greatly. Master was pleased.
“I left it up to your own will to change,” he told him one day. Then, referring to the man’s rather checkered past, he added, “But it is much easier to be good than bad, really. If one is bad, he is always in terror. But the good man is afraid of nothing and no one. The gods themselves then have to look out for him, for the God of all gods is on his side!”
Because I’d accepted this man, Master did his best to help him. But when he first learned of his acceptance, Master exclaimed to me, “I’m going to have to give you intuition!”
His words may have contained a serious blessing. At any rate, soon thereafter I found I could often tell at a glance whether a man belonged at Mt. Washington or not. Sometimes, even before that man had mentioned anything about coming, I would tell him, “You belong with us.” As nearly as I remember, when such a feeling came to me it always proved justified.
Master, in his talks with us, always sought to turn our minds toward God. He urged us to see the Lord manifested in everything and everyone. “Respect one another,” he once told us, “as you respect me.”
Many hours he spent talking with us, giving us help and encouragement. Above all he urged us to seek our inspiration inwardly, in meditation.
Hearing one of the monks chanting in the main chapel one evening, to the accompaniment of an Indian harmonium, he paused during the course of a conversation downstairs. Blissfully, then, he remarked, “That is what I like to hear in this hermitage of God!”
Renunciate: This noun form is in common usage in India, but is not to be found in either Webster’s International or the Oxford dictionaries, both of which favor the less euphonic renunciant. In Self-Realization Fellowship we used the word renunciate, following Master’s lead. Sometime in the mid-1950s, however, one of the nuns happened to notice that this form was not listed in the dictionary. Renunciant then became adopted. Yet Indian English is quite old enough to be accepted as a legitimate branch of the English language — particularly where, as in this case, the word involves a concept that is their specialty, not ours. I opt for the much more pleasant-sounding renunciate. Like initiate (the noun), renunciate is grammatically legitimate. And this, after all, is how new words get accepted into the language. Renunciate has only to gain wide circulation for future editions of Webster’s to give it full recognition.
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