Like many people, I have been dealing with the karma of health challenges. I suffer from a neurological disorder that causes overall stiffness, slowness, cramping, and occasional pain. It affects nearly everything I do on the physical plane, including spiritual practices. Such simple tasks as getting ready in the morning take longer. Walking and other activities I used to take for granted now require more will power.
The emotional and spiritual challenges of an illness are perhaps even harder than the physical. There’s the temptation to fall into self-pity or to be hurt by other people’s impatience or lack of understanding. We live in a fast-paced, youth-oriented culture where “perfect, graceful bodies” are held up as the ideal.
For now, when I struggle with negative emotions, I pray for the grace to have a broader perspective: to understand my karma more deeply and to learn its lessons. I pray especially for the right attitude and the ability to stay positive.
Quietly turning pages
As if in answer to my prayers, I recently had the good fortune to be involved with the Ananda Village audio recording of Swami Kriyananda reading his new book, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita. While Kriyananda was reading aloud the entire book, I was by his side in the recording booth, quietly turning the pages.
The task was surprisingly demanding. I had to be awake and alert at every moment so I would be sure to remove each page at exactly the right time. I also had to listen for any unintended changes or mistakes, so that I could bring them to Swami Kriyananda’s attention.
Also, due to space and noise considerations, I was on my knees for the entire six days of recording. For me, perhaps more than for most people, it was a sacrifice — but one that strangely added to the overall joy of the experience.
All great works are accompanied by tapasya or austerity. Swami Kriyananda’s entire life has been one of self-sacrifice, especially in the creation of Ananda. It seemed fitting, then, that the recording of The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita should require some mild discomfort on my part.
Since my involvement in the recording of the book was the result of an unusual series of circumstances, I have asked myself, why did this experience come to me? I think there are two reasons, one personal, the other related to the book.
A microcosm of lessons
My days with Swami Kriyananda in the recording studio were a microcosm of lessons in how to live as a disciple, and how to meet the challenges of the body. Kriyananda had just celebrated his 80th birthday, yet his energy and focus remained consistently strong both during and after the recording process. Though he may have been physically unwell, he rarely mentioned it.
A friend who went to India this year for the celebration of Yogananda’s mahasamadhi (his final conscious exit from the body), told me of a day when Kriyananda’s body was so ill, he practically went straight from his sick bed to the teaching platform, and was brought into the hall in a wheel chair. Deeply moved by his example, she said, “Swami is showing us that we can always find a way to serve our Guru — even up to the moment of death!”
“I am not the body”
During the recording of The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Kriyananda served as a powerful role model of self-transcendence. Over the 35 years of my association with him, I have often observed his non-identification with the body. He knows he is not the body, while most of us are still trying to realize this truth.
While with him in the studio, I experienced a taste of that transcendence. Any physical discomfort was just a faint buzz in the background. In the foreground of my mind was the joy of the experience, including helping to manifest a recording that will inspire so many people. Etched in my soul was the lesson: self-transcendence is a matter of what you focus on.
Gradually, the liberating idea that “I am not the body” has started to ring true in unexpected ways, bringing a new sense of freedom. The radiant memory of those days in the recording studio helps me open up to the bigger picture. I try constantly to remind myself of the joyful devotion and detachment I felt while in Kriyananda’s presence.
An ocean of inspiration and grace
The other reason this experience came to me, I believe, relates to the book itself. From the reports of those who were with him, Kriyananda was immersed in an ocean of inspiration and grace during the writing of The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita. He often says that Yogananda wrote the book through him.
The inspiration Kriyananda felt permeates the book in an almost tangible way. I had already experienced the power of that inspiration in reading the book. During the recording session, I was immersed in it for six entire days.
Being careful not to squander a precious opportunity, after each day of recording, I remained quiet and inward while handling my other duties for Radio Ananda, (Ananda’s internet radio station). Meditating and reading The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita were the highest priority; I yearned to stay in that sacred vibration as long as possible.
I can now appreciate more fully the Bhagavad Gita’s promise to any one who listens with devotion to its timeless wisdom: “Even that person who, full of devotion and without skepticism, merely listens to this holy discourse, and heeds its teachings, shall become free from earthly karma and shall be blessed to dwell in the high realm of the virtuous.”
The Gita as a friend
A few months after the recording session, I sat one day in front of a picture of Sister Gyanamata, Yogananda’s greatest woman disciple who, at death, became a liberated soul. Among Yogananda’s disciples, she is known for the depth of her inward attunement to him.
Silently I prayed to her, asking for guidance on becoming more in tune with the Guru. I felt her answer: “Read the Bhagavad Gita.” This was another confirmation that the Gita had become an important vehicle for attuning myself to the ray of divine grace that flows through Yogananda and Kriyananda.
However, the Gita is a valuable resource for any spiritual aspirant. For many of us there are times when meditation is difficult, when reading The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita may be all we can do. The book can help us on many levels, including the powerful level of vibration. What’s essential is that we approach it, as we would any good friend, with respect and an open heart.
“Wisdom is the greatest cleanser,” said Swami Sri Yukteswar. The Gita is a flowing stream of wisdom and light, which we can tap into at any point. If we bathe in that stream, it will cleanse and purify us.
Each moment is precious
Recently I felt a welling up of gratitude for all the blessings in my life: for my Guru and for Swami Kriyananda, for the practice of yoga and meditation, for the spiritual community of Ananda.
Increasingly, I see my life in terms of quality more than quantity. Each moment is precious. Each day provides opportunities for giving my life to God — for loving and serving the Divine Friend.