This past August, during Spiritual Renewal Week, we were treated to a dramatization of Swami Kriyananda’s beautiful story/allegory “The Singer and the Nightingale.” The play was a delight, profoundly funny and, in its serious purpose, just as profoundly moving. We rejoiced with the Singer when at last his voice soared free. I think we were equally touched by the light emanating from cast and crew, a light born of each one’s inward spiritual efforts during the months past when the play was such a central part of sadhana.
“The Singer and the Nightingale,” like so many events at Ananda, involved many, many people – none working for reward, all doing what was asked of them in a spirit of service, selflessly, with inward self-offering. Preceding the performance had been months of preparation – the script; costumes created, sewed, fitted; sound and light equipment installed, tested; sets built and arranged; musicians and instruments; makeup; scheduling and coordinating rehearsals; programs. Each bird actor was asked to develop his own character, complete with movements and voice. Rehearsals took place often in exhausting heat. The director worked tirelessly, and prayerfully, to help the production express as truly as possible Swamiji’s intention and spirit. Every rehearsal began with prayer, an invocation to the Masters, visualization, meditation. On performance night, once setup was completed, the entire cast, in costume, meditated together in Lahiri Shrine, right up to time to begin the performance.
Months of intense, all-out effort to bring about the best possible event, then a single night’s performance. Once the play was over, we all went home. Costumes were put away, cast and crew went on to new adventures. Many hands had made this miracle. And many hands would make the next Ananda miracle – whether a celebration of Halloween (in an uplifting way) or a ceremony to honor the birth and mahasamadhi of our beloved Lahiri Mahasaya. More and more I see life in spiritual community as an unending flow of serving from the heart, service that steadily shines light on the true, divine purpose of our lives, that washes us clean of cloying, downward-pulling energies, and frees us to be what our souls long to be – pure channels for God’s love and joy to all.
Listening to different cast and crew members speak of their experience, I came to see the play as not so much an end in itself as a flowing river into which each one poured the individual stream of his own gift to the Divine. I thought, “What I am feeling is the spirit of tithing.” Each one is transforming himself into a conduit through which Swamiji’s joyful spirit can flow – not only in grateful obeisance back to Spirit, but outward, in widening circles to uplift and bless everyone present, and, in the words of our Sunday Service offertory prayer, to “help spread Thy message of Self-realization to receptive souls everywhere.”
“The Singer and the Nightingale” is a parable of spiritual transformation made possible by the compassionate love of caring friends, a gathering of birds who reach out to help the Singer when he has fallen into darkness. The Messenger Nightingale touches his heart with a kindness so purely offered that he willingly follows her into the presence of the guru, represented by the Queen Nightingale, who can then take charge of the Singer’s life, awaken him, and show him the way back to wholeness. Premi, who played the Messenger Nightingale, spoke of the deepening connection, through the months of rehearsal, among all the cast and crew, a growing perception of the true, divine nature of everyone involved, caught often in moments of rehearsal as they worked together to share Swami’s vision for the story. The Nightingale’s role was to summon the Singer out of his despair, to see and touch the light within him, so that he would be open to receive the Queen Nightingale’s guidance. In one rehearsal, looking into the Singer’s eyes, she saw Divine Mother there, pure light, and felt herself not the body, felt everyone as light, unbound by the body. The feeling lasted for days. What we give to God, Swami tell us again and again, returns to us a millionfold.
Ramu, who played the Singer, felt himself hopelessly unqualified for the role, which called for a flawless rendition of the theme song at play’s end, when his cure was complete – he feared producing a “squeak or gurgle” when the goal was perfection of the note of “A.” Balanced against his reservations was one inescapable truth – he had been asked to serve in this way, and the One behind the asking, he inwardly felt, was Divine Mother. Wanting his offering, on stage and especially in song, truly to express the depth and inspiration of Swami’s writing, he prayed to Swamiji for his help. Instantly came the divine response – a feeling of Swami’s presence, of his compassion for Ramu’s quandry, and of his enthusiasm for Ramu’s playing the role. Remarkable improvements in his singing and healing of his throat area came during the two months of rehearsal. The morning of the performance, he prayed at Swami’s grave site and asked his blessing on his efforts. As the sun rose, his heart swelled with Swami’s encouragement and love. Ramu’s struggle paralleled the Singer’s. To move from self-doubt to perfect self-offering, Ramu gave his all in joyful service and love, and in doing so, opened a channel through which Swamiji and Master flowed in blessing to us all.
At the conclusion of the play, the Singer, his voice now healed, his heart at peace, sings the song “Peace.” His voice, by sound crew wizardry, syncs into Swami’s voice, completing the song. Overhead is projected an image of Swamiji, smiling and laughing with childlike joy. Below, on stage, the cast are assembled. Silently, together, they gesture to honor the musicians and the sound and light crew. Finally, with deep reverence, they gesture, with right wing or right arm, to the statue of our Master, Paramhansa Yogananda, seated below the overhead image of Swamiji. They are offering their service, their love and gratitude, to Master and Swamiji, who are the true source of inspiration for the play, and for all of our lives – the devotee’s pronam before the divine gift and the Divine Giver.
In divine friendship,