My younger sister blames herself for being the catalyst when, in the midst of the idyllic and harmonious works of our childhood, there suddenly erupted The Great Manure War.
The Second World War had come and gone, causing unimaginable suffering across the globe, but little affecting in any direct way our peaceful existence on a small family farm in Kentucky. The center of the young life of my sister and myself was an old oak barn, the boards hand-hewn and several inches thick, a hayloft above, stalls bordering a central passageway. Each stall had a window facing out.
Our kindhearted parents had given each of us a horse, and each a stall to make into a home for the horse. Our father had made it clear to us that we were to keep the stalls immaculately clean, to layer on fresh straw regularly, and to gather all the waste from the stall and adjoining central aisle, then fork it out the window, ultimately to be spread on the vegetable garden and surrounding alfalfa fields.
My sister struggled with the raking, and especially with forking the heavy, wet, soiled straw out the window—a high reach for a small person. Her real love was taking long trail rides, sometimes all day, in the neighboring farmland. I was happiest caring for my horse: grooming, doctoring, making a clean, soft bed.
A large pile of dirty straw
One day, when I opened the sliding door to clean my horse’s stall, I found just inside a large pile of dirty straw and manure. My sister’s stall was clean. Probably she had simply dreaded dealing with that high window and had thought I wouldn’t mind forking her stall’s rakings when I was doing my own—after all, I was the big brother!
The opportunity for joyful service was lost on me. Fuming with indignation, I gathered up the steaming pile, dumped it inside her horse’s stall, and stormed off in pursuit.
Our father was peacefully reading the newspaper in our dining room when my sister, shrieking with fear, burst in, closely followed by my enraged self, brandishing a stick and shouting, “I’m going to kill you!” Round and round the dining room table we ran. Our father, ever calm and practical, did not interfere except to reach out and remove the stick from my grasp as we raced past.
“Can we be friends again?”
Later that night, after we had gone to our separate rooms, I lay awake, feeling sick inside. My sister was my best friend. We shared everything. Then as now, she was loving, kind, deeply devoted and supportive. I felt profoundly unhappy: I had shouted at someone I loved, and felt helpless to make things right again. Inwardly I was telling her that I was sorry, that it was all my fault, that I loved her. Lying there in my desolation, I heard tiptoeing footsteps creaking across the hallway that separated our rooms. Then came a paper-rustling sound, and footsteps tiptoeing away.
In blocky grade-school writing, she had written me a letter: “I’m so sorry! It was all my fault. Please forgive me. Can we be friends again?” My contracted heart opened and overflowed with love and gratitude to my little sister who could so courageously, generously, and humbly reach out through the darkness to bring love where there had been hurt and anger, peace where there had been misunderstanding and strife.
Surely Divine Mother was showing Her little boy some of the qualities that pleased Her most: selfless love, forgiveness, a courageous and giving heart. “Help us to scatter fragrant flower-petals of forgiveness,” our Master writes, “and return sweet speech for every sour word, smiling love for all hatred, heartfelt kindness for people’s anger, and brotherly or sisterly goodness for every injury.”
A helpless bystander
Decades later, now many years a devotee, I found myself again in a time of grieving. The community as a whole was struggling to see its way forward: Swami Kriyananda and our way of life were under attack in a vicious and protracted lawsuit. My sorrow was for a friend who, overwhelmed by the negativity swirling around the lawsuit, fell victim to doubt, turned away from Paramhansa Yogananda’s path, and finally left the community altogether.
Even more deeply, the source of my grief was that in a time when so much was asked of us as disciples, I was only barely able to stand and face the darkness seeking to destroy everything Swami Kriyananda and our community stood for.
My departed friend had left behind for me a canvas yurt under a great old oak tree. Standing inside I could feel a vibration of heaviness and sadness, residue of my friend’s painful life change and of my own inability to be more than a helpless bystander. The yurt was bare of furniture.
“Master, please forgive me.”
Outside on this autumn evening the wind began picking up. I listened to the grandfather oak creaking as the rising wind tore through. The moon shone brightly through the branches as they bent before the wind, throwing wildly gesticulating shadows on the canvas ceiling. The wind built and built, now howling outside, shaking the yurt’s frame, creating such a heightened pressure inside the yurt that the entire structure expanded, swelling outward so forcefully that the rafters began popping off the supporting cable and crashing to the floor.
The storm was tearing my little home apart, even as I stood helpless to resist. I felt naked and exposed before God and Guru. My heart shattered. Before my inward vision passed scenes from my life up to this point—hurts and betrayals, failures, lost friendships, the regrets of a lifetime. Weeping with bottomless sorrow and contrition, I called out to the roaring sky: “Master, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”
Instantly a great warmth filled my heart. All my self-recrimination, all my grief and despair vanished. The storm outside changed from something terrifying, accusatory, destructive to something beautiful, joyful, energizing, endlessly loving—an entertainment with a message of God’s unconditional love.
A message of unconditional love
I was able to move about quickly enough to keep at least most of the rafters on the support cable, and all the while to thrill inwardly at the ever-changing loveliness of the dancing shadows on the canvas. The storm abated. I sat in the middle of the floor—overwhelmed with love and gratitude for the all-merciful, all-forgiving, unconditional love of our Master, there all the time, waiting patiently for his child’s heart to open, that he might enter and take charge of my life.
Only later did I realize that, in the depths of my spiritual anguish, I had called out to Master in the very words written to me all those long years ago by my little sister. In this way did Divine Mother use the emotional upheavals of childhood to prepare a little boy’s heart to receive Her grace. “I want to load my boat with all those waiting, thirsty ones who have been left behind,” Master writes, “that I may carry them to the opalescent pool of iridescent joy, there where my Father distributes His all-desire-quenching, liquid peace.”
Nayaswami Prakash, a long-time member of Ananda, currently serves at Ananda Village doing forestry and landscaping work. He also helps with editing and proofing books and articles by Ananda members, writes regularly for Clarity Magazine, and writes the monthly “Thank You, God” tithing letter.