It is Saturday night, April 19, just past 10:30 in the evening. We are with Swamiji in Rome, Italy. The long-anticipated event, the launch of the just published Italian version of Swamiji’s Revelations of Christ as Proclaimed by Paramhansa Yogananda is now an event recorded in the ether for the ages.
It was a triumph, success on every level. The hall was full. The music was heavenly Swamiji’s health has been very good. He was strong, blissful, and inspired from start to finish. About 700 people came, and 500 copies of the book were sold.
Now here is the long version.
The event was held in Theater Valle, a very prestigious location, right in the heart of old Rome, just a few blocks from the Pantheon. The theater is over 300 years old. (Before there was a United States of America, Romans were attending events in Theater Valle.)
The theater holds about 700 people, and it was full. The “footprint” of the theater is an oval, not that large: only about 20 rows, and 15 seats across. The rest of the seating is in five tiers of boxes, each holding about 4-6 seats that rise up in a curved wall from the ground floor. It was extremely picturesque to see the devotees in each box leaning out from the railing to see the stage below.
The stage was adorned with a very large picture of Master on one side, and an equally large picture of the cover of the book on the other.
The background of the book poster was a lovely shade of apricot-orange, which exactly matched the color of the Indian style shirt that Swamiji wore over Western trousers, personifying in his very appearance the East-West message of the teachings of Jesus proclaimed by an Indian Master.
The event was scheduled for 4:00 in the afternoon. Events of this type are commonly held in the afternoon.
One of the props from a play that is also using the theater now is a set of marble stairs placed right in the center of the stage. They were too heavy to move, which turned out to be no problem, for they made beautiful risers for the choir.
In front of the steps, on the side next to Master’s picture, the musicians were set up — keyboard, harp, flute, violins (2), and cello.
On the other side of the stage, next to the photo of the book cover, there was a large straight-backed upholstered chair for Swamiji. It was a heavy printed tapestry with carved legs. The front edge of the stage was also elaborately carved, so the chair fit well the motif of the theater.
There were huge flower arrangements at each corner of the stage. Not the usual bouquets, but an unusual array of tall exotic flowers. Around the back, behind the risers, there were large green plants, with bright pink flowers at the base.
Swamiji, as I said, was dressed in a soft apricot orange that matched the book cover. The singers and musicians wore the usual Ananda rainbow colors that the choir wears for performances.
Even if the stage had been bare and everyone had dressed in sackcloth, it would still have been a spiritually unforgettable evening. But the exquisite attention to detail, the creativity, the refined expression of beauty all added greatly to the uplifed feeling of the whole program.
Swamiji felt that the message he had to deliver needed to be received first in the heart. So for this reason he decided to open the program with 30 minutes of music from the Oratorio.
Narya (Paolo Tossetto) played the role of host with grace and dignity. After he welcomed everyone, he introduced an official from the City of Rome, the one who, last year, had been instrumental in awarding Swamiji the “Julius Caesar Medal,” the equivalent of the “Keys to the City.”
That man spoke of what a great honor it was to welcome Swamiji, it was a privilege for him, and for the whole city of Rome. There was no further award to give Swamiji as he had already been given the best the city could offer. But Rome did give its official “stamp of approval” to the event as something of cultural benefit to its citizens.
(An important note: Of course, all the proceedings, including Swamiji’s talk took place in Italian. I can follow the general flow of ideas when Swamiji speaks, but I don’t speak Italian. So details will have to come from others. And if someone offers another version of what was said, believe him or her, not me.)
The theater doors opened at 3:00 and about 3:30 the instrumentalists began to play. So by the time the program began, the theater was already vibrating with exquisite music played by angels.
Kirtani was the choir director. With her shoulder length white hair and pale pink dress she was like a beam of astral light moving in harmony with the music.
The choir (about 25 devotees) sang with seemingly effortless perfection many of the choir pieces from the Oratorio. There were a few solos and several ensembles as well.
I thought later how beautifully all the singers, and Ananda speakers, like Narya and others, reflected Swamiji’s own vibration of humility, naturalness, ease of expression, impersonal warmth. It was all the same uplifted vibration.
In the course of the evening, about a dozen individual singers stepped out from the choir, either as soloists or in small groups. Some of the ensembles included devotees from four countries. Master’s ideal of world-brotherhood exemplified in music. Some of the songs were in Italian; most were in English.
Each individual singer was an impressive combination of individuality and impersonality. The performances were original in the true sense of the word: emanating from the origin point of each singer’s being. It was God enjoying Himself through many.
Helmut (from Germany, living at Ananda Assisi now for many years) sang Thy Will with such purity and feeling, you could see it was hard for some of the choir members (and the audience, too!) to master their own feelings enough to go on to the next song.
Zoe (from England, also living at Ananda Assisi) sang I Am Thine, Mary Magdalene’s song about the “joy of redemption” as Swamiji explains it. Again the purity of her voice, her childlike joy in singing it, accompanied by the harp and the crystal clear notes of Bhagavati’s flute communicated perfectly God’s unconditional love for all of us.
Swamiji’s chair was placed a little to the side, where the audience could see his profile and he could see the choir. Watching him watch the choir was as inspiring at times as seeing the musicians and singers themselves.
There was no sense of personal involvement from Swamiji, no sense that he had played any special role in what was happening in front of him, just support and appreciation for all those performing and joy in the music itself.
By the time Swamiji got up to speak, because of the music, the hundreds of people in the theater had already come together in the vibration of Christ and Master. It was a seamless transition. We were with Swamiji from the first word.
Swamiji started with a few beautiful slides of distant galaxies projected on a very large screen on the back wall of the stage. One of the important purposes of this book is to give people a concept of God and Christ that is in harmony with the vastness of creation as science has shown it to be.
From this starting point Swamiji went on to talk of God (online audio of his talk at the end of the article) as an infinite consciousness, not the human figure portrayed on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He explained how Jesus being described as the “son” of God can only be symbolic, not literal.
Later, to illustrate this point, Swamiji sang a verse (in Italian) of the Thunder of AUM song that is part of our weekly Festival of Light. Hearing Swamiji singing this familiar lyric and melody in an entirely different context was an important reminder of how much meaning is embedded in our weekly ritual and how deep it can take us spiritually if we open ourselves to it.
Swamiji spoke of finding the Autobiography and meeting Master.
As often happens when Swamiji repeats the first words he spoke to Master, “I want to be your disciple,” his voice was choked with feeling.
So many things in life become less meaningful with familiarity and repetition. Living with Master, Swamiji explained, was just the opposite. The more he has come to know Master, the deeper the experience has become. “I lived with a Christ,” Swamiji said.
We tend to think of Jesus as someone in the distant past. It was thrilling to hear Swamiji speak not of history, but of his own experience. We often use the words “direct disciple” to describe Swamiji. When Swamiji spoke those words, I had a tiny glimpse of what “direct disciple” actually means.
Swamiji’s message was one of hope for every soul. “A saint is a sinner who never gave up.” When Swamiji said this, I felt he was giving us not only faith in our eventual liberation, but also the strength and courage to persevere until that destiny is realized.
In the days before this program, Swamiji had said several times in the course of various interviews with radio and TV and journalists, that his message, and the message of this book is not an intellectual one. It is from the heart.
What Swamiji gave us in his talk today was not just ideas, but the experience of truth behind those ideas.
Swamiji’s theme was joy. When he spoke of how too much emphasis on yourself as a sinner often becomes an excuse to keep on sinning, the audience broke out first in laughter then in applause. The audience laughed easily and several times applauded when Swamiji made a point they particularly enjoyed.
Christ’s greatness is the divine destiny of all Swamiji said. All suffering ends in joy. Everything in this world is divine. Even the worst criminal is a child of God, equally loved by Him. No matter what we do, we cannot separate ourselves from Him. We belong to Him. He is our Divine Friend.
Swamiji spoke for about 40 minutes. Afterwards, there was more music. Swamiji sang a solo of Children of God. Then he stepped into the choir for Christ is Risen. Then Thy Light Within Us Shining, in English, then in Italian.
Swamiji was presented with a few awards from yoga societies and other spiritual organizations. Professor Lazlo, the founder of The Club of Budapest presented Swamiji with a certificate of special membership.
The Professor is a well-respected scientist, with a deeply spiritual viewpoint. Swamiji has contributed chapters to several of his books, and the Professor has visited Swamiji several times. He is about the same age as Swamiji. Both are slender and perhaps not as stalwart and physically vigorous as they once
The two men stood on the stage together, both heads crowned with white hair that created in the light a bright aureole around their heads. It was profoundly moving to see two men of such accomplishment and devotion to truth, both having spent a lifetime sharing their wisdom and experience with others.
One can only hope that, at that stage in our own lives, we will be able to look back on a lifetime so well spent.
Several notable guests were invited to the stage to receive from Swamiji a copy of the book, a CD of the Oratorio, and a long-stemmed rose.
Then, when all the ceremony was done, Swamiji stood at the microphone and sang Peace. His voice was clear and resonant. The choir (of angels) joined in. Swamiji invited us all to sing the last Amen.
And then it was over.
Swamiji wisely decided to exit out the back door of the theater. If he had gone out through the crowd he might be there still.
Before he could go, however, there was one last interview. One of the major television stations had asked to have a few minutes with him. So the huge poster of the book was brought in as a backdrop and Swamiji sat in front of the cameras for a few minutes answering questions: “What is the message of this book?” “Who is Paramhansa Yogananda?” “Tell us about the communities you have founded.”
There has been a great deal of very good publicity, good questions from sincere journalists. The positive effect of this event will be reflected not only in book sales but in increasing appreciation and understanding of Ananda and Swamiji for a long time to come.
Swamiji spent all day before the program mostly alone, taking his meals in his room. Around 1:00pm, I went to make sure his lunch arrived as ordered.
In the usual way I greeted him, “How are you today?” But the question was entirely superfluous! His aura of joy was tangible as soon as I opened the door, and his beatific smile erased any possible doubt. His eyes were shining with joy.
I thought of those words from The Festival of Light that describe the beginning of this great mission of Self-realization.
“Jesus appeared to the great Master Babaji…..”
And then the call to action, “Let us together, in Christ love, set lights ablaze on that high altar once again.”
Well, today, in Rome, the lights are blazing!