We just received news that a friend in India, Ashok Baba Kulkarni, is close to leaving his body. We’ve considered him a friend and an inspiration even though we met him and his wife, Daya, only a few times. On every occasion, he would regale us with stories of his time with his guru, Ananda Moyi Ma. Ashok Baba didn’t have a big public mission, but for me he represents India’s truest treasure: those deeply spiritual souls who carry the light of God and illuminate the world around them as they pass through.
A few years ago he told us a fascinating story that has deeply inspired and instructed us. He and his wife were very close to Ma, and she would often ask them to accompany her on her travels. One time a small group was staying in a very remote area. It fell to Ashok to do the daily shopping, no small feat, since it required a walk of ten kilometers to the nearest small village, and a return trip carrying the purchases, which along with his other tasks took him all day.
As a part of his sadhana, Ma had instructed him to do a large number of repetitions of a sacred mantra. My memory is that it was 108 malas’ worth, which is nearly 12,000 daily repetitions. One day Ma asked him if he was doing his mantra, and he replied that he was constantly repeating it as he walked to and from the market.
Her reply surprised him. She said, “No, this is not good enough. You should repeat them during meditation instead, so that you can concentrate deeply.” Another member of the group came to his defense, saying, “But Ma, that would take him all night.” Ma just shrugged and said nothing more.
That evening when he came back to his little hut he told his wife about the conversation and said, “Let’s start tomorrow night.” Her reply (a rebuke to the procrastinator in all of us) was, “Why wait, we must start tonight.” And so that night, they did their meditation and mantra and went without sleep. The next night they did the same, now going without sleep for two days. And so it continued for a whole month.
Ashok concluded the story by saying, “It was a true miracle. We never slept for an entire month and yet were filled with energy and joy. I would never have believed such a thing was possible if I hadn’t experienced it myself.”
As I reflected on this story, I was struck by the faith and courage it must have taken. I could imagine myself following my guru’s request the first night. But think about the second and third nights: that must have required a special kind of faith and courage. Their attunement alone had to sustain them until they were able actually to experience their guru’s grace sustaining their efforts.
I pray that Ashok’s life will be an inspiration for all of us to develop that kind of faith and courage. May it help us take a step beyond what we think of as our limits. As we do this, we will expand toward our soul-nature, which never sleeps and has no boundaries.
In God’s light,
P.S. As I write this, it is four days before the blog will be published. Today, our daily calendar of passages from Autobiography of a Yogi quoted a passage that I took as Yogananda’s blessing. Describing his first meeting with Ananda Moyi Ma, Yogananda wrote, “I had instantly seen that the saint was in a high state of samadhi. Utterly oblivious to her outward garb as a woman, she knew herself as the changeless soul; from that plane she was joyously greeting another devotee of God.” I suspect she is now preparing to greet her beloved disciple, Ashok.
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