Birthday Bliss 2014

Reflections on Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

My Secret Wish

During Gurumayi’s second Teaching Visit to Japan in 1991, I had the opportunity to accompany Gurumayi and a group of Siddha Yogis on visits to several Buddhist temples in and around the ancient spiritual capital of Kyoto. In the early 1970s, I had begun my own spiritual journey in one of these temples and I was particularly excited to revisit these temples with my Guru, Gurumayi.

At each temple, Gurumayi inquired about the protocols and practices of that particular temple, and very respectfully honored the traditions of each place. As was the lighthearted custom in one temple, we threw water upon the stone statues of the Buddha at the entrance, with laughter and great joy. At another, we circumambulated the central Buddha and made offerings. In others, we sat silently in meditation or chanted the Siddha Yoga mantra.  I loved watching Gurumayi’s spirit of open inquiry, as she explored the ancient culture and asked questions for our edification.

One temple we visited had been a favorite of mine during the four years I lived in Japan. It was filled with a number of large statues of Buddha. After gazing in silence for quite a while at one in particular, Gurumayi said to the head priest, “This Buddha is different from the rest.”

“How do you mean?” the priest asked.

Gurumayi explained that all the other Buddhas were sitting straight, but this one seemed to lean forward, ever so slightly. The priest acknowledged Gurumayi’s perception, saying, “Yes, that’s true. This particular Buddha made a vow to return to this world again and again to uplift mankind, so he leans forward to hear the petitions of all.”

I marveled at Gurumayi’s ability to observe this Buddha’s subtle gesture, and I wondered how I had missed seeing the leaning posture all those times I had visited that temple in the past.

Seeing with a clear and subtle perception was a teaching from Gurumayi that began to unfold for me in surprising ways during this visit. Next, it was with great honor and delight that I led Gurumayi and our group to the historic temple of Daitokuji, where I had formerly studied. Today Daitokuji is a vast complex of numerous temples, both large and small. As we entered one of the oldest temples and viewed its graceful gardens, the head priest appeared and invited us for tea. He was quite a famous monk, having appeared on national television, and was well known for his sense of humor. Perhaps it was this sense of humor that called forth what was about to occur.

As we took our seats in the tea room, I handed the priest one of Gurumayi’s books. Then, he inquired in English if I was the head of this group. I was about to say “No,” when Gurumayi began to laugh and indicated with a gesture of her hand and a nod that yes, I was the leader of this group.

The monk looked at the cover of the book, which had a picture of Gurumayi with a shaved head, and then looked at Gurumayi, who had long hair at the time. Next he looked at me, who was completely bald, and then turned back toward Gurumayi. Once more he looked at the photo on the book, and his face gave way to a big smile. With great sweetness, he then fixed tea for each of us.

Occasionally I glanced towards Gurumayi out of the corner of my eye. She sat without saying a word, the embodiment of stillness and “pure emptiness,” which in the Zen tradition is considered a high attainment. The image and sensation have stayed with me to this day.

Though Gurumayi was silent throughout the serving of the tea, I felt the power of her actions supporting me. As I spoke about meditation with the priest on behalf of our group, I felt tremendous gratitude for all I had learned from studying with Baba and Gurumayi over the years.

When the time came to leave, the priest bade us farewell. As we walked down the garden path towards the gate, the array of temple bells started to ring. We looked and there was the head priest on the porch, ringing the bells himself, laughing and waving goodbye. With those peals, it seemed as if he were saying to Gurumayi, “Aha, I recognized you and enjoyed your company. Thank you for coming.”

As I reflected upon what had just happened, I recalled that Zen literature is full of such encounters between masters, where recognition is conveyed without words and often in unconventional ways. Right before my eyes that day, Gurumayi had seamlessly entered this tradition and flowed in perfect harmony with it.

The day was not done. After our experience of tea, Gurumayi asked me to take her to the temple where my former teacher lived. I pointed toward that temple, saying to Gurumayi that my teacher would not be able to see us due to ill health, so there was probably no reason to go.

Gurumayi began to walk straight towards the temple, seemingly ignoring my words. When we came to the temple door, the attendant said the priest had only a short time to live and unfortunately could not receive guests. Gurumayi explained that she wanted to send a gift and asked one of the sevites with us to bring a shawl. Hearing this, my hair stood on end. For years, I had fantasized about returning to Japan to offer my teacher a beautiful, purple pashmina shawl in gratitude for starting me on the spiritual path.

When the sevite reappeared, she was carrying three pashmina shawls—one white, one black, and one purple. Gurumayi looked at the shawls silently for a few moments. She then reached for the purple one and sent it in with her blessings.

I was so happy that my former teacher received the blessing of a Siddha in the last weeks of his life. Of course, I wondered how Gurumayi knew—about my secret wish, about the good humor of the priest who served us tea, about the Buddha who leans ever so slightly, listening to the petitions of all. For me, there was an invisible thread connecting all these events.

And then it dawned on me. It was the silence. In the space of inner silence and openness, Gurumayi listens. She listens to the needs of the moment. She listens to the heart of another. From the space of inner silence and openness, Gurumayi listens to the promptings of the omniscient Shakti, the divine power which exists in all. In this way, her actions are always in accord with a higher wisdom.

The temple visits unfolded very spontaneously. Still, when I looked back at the end of the day, I could see they flowed perfectly, like a river.

The ancient Buddhist texts say that a Buddha, “an awakened one,” imparts teachings through every action and gesture. In visiting the ancient temples of Kyoto with Gurumayi, I experienced the supreme knowledge of her words, actions, and inner stillness, and this awakened me to a new way of being in this world.


About the Author

Swami Ishwarananda has been following the Siddha Yoga path for over forty years. He received shaktipat initiation in 1972 while living and teaching English in Japan. Shortly afterwards, Swamiji began his Siddha Yoga practice, and in 1980 he took monastic vows to become a Siddha Yoga Swami. Swamiji has served Gurumayi as a Siddha Yoga meditation teacher, traveling extensively throughout the world to teach in Siddha Yoga courses, Sadhana Retreats, and Shaktipat Intensives. He is a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts. Swamiji lives in Shree Muktananda Ashram in South Fallsburg, New York.


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Thank you, Swami Ishwarananda! Your description of this precious pilgrimage of "My Secret Wish" transported me there—I could hear Gurumayi’s soft footfall on the temple steps, I could picture her serene presence amongst all the statues of Buddha. 
This Reflection has helped me form a wish for myself. May I always attune myself to the message of my Guru. May I always perceive Gurumayi’s grace in my life and always see the light that she brings to the darker parts of my mind and life. May my gratitude for Gurumayi’s profuse anukampa—her benevolence, grace, and compassion—ring out like the temple bell from the depths of my heart.  

a Siddha Yogi from Sydney, Australia

As I come back to this exquisite story, I’m struck by another invisible thread running through it—the virtue of humility. As I think about humility—so beautifully embodied by Gurumayi, Swamiji, the monk who served tea, the high priest who rang the bells—it dawns on me that without humility, we cannot experience silence. Our minds would be too busy worrying about who we are and how we appear, to rest in open quietude.

Thank you, Swami Ishwarananda, for this moving, heartfelt Reflection and for showing us these vivid examples of humility and silence. This has made a big impact on me.

a Siddha Yogi from Massachusetts, USA

Thank you so much, Swami Ishwarananda, for sharing this deeply moving time with Gurumayi.
Your words, "...and this awakened me to a new way of being in this world," are inspiring me to listen more deeply to the silence and to the hidden messages that are right here and now in the whisper — coming from a tree, a bird, a human heart. Thank you, Swamiji! 

a Siddha Yogi from California, USA

It has been wonderful to read all the Reflections that have been posted on the Siddha Yoga website. Yesterday morning, we had a Yuva Sadhana Circle where we read a few Reflections, contemplated them, and then journaled our own Reflections on Gurumayi. It was a great exercise for bringing out our own connection with Gurumayi.
Reading Swami Ishwarananda's Reflection delighted me. He articulated so nicely the mysterious process of silence. Listening in silence, we understand the needs of the moment; the silence unfolds mysteries and previously unknown dimensions.
The words "In the space of inner silence and openness, Gurumayi listens" are still resonating within me, and I am glad to practice today's virtue of silence with this understanding.

a Siddha Yogi from Pune, India

Happy Birthday, Gurumayi! In Melbourne, Australia, it is your birthday. It is raining, auspiciously, as I write this on your birthday morning.

As I stood at my puja this morning to offer love and gratitude to you on this blissful day, I heard an inner dialogue going on. "Listen.... I am always with you.... Listen...." were the sweet words I felt were from you to me.

I then went to the Siddha Yoga path website, excited to see how we would all be celebrating today in honor of Birthday Bliss and I read Swami Ishwarananda's beautiful Reflection. The resounding theme for me was his appreciation of how Gurumayi really listens. As he says, "She listens to the needs of the moment. She listens to the heart of another…."

Gurumayi, thank you for teaching us how to listen and why it is so important in our sadhana—to find the way to access the ever-present connection of love we share together.

Jai Gurumayi!

a Siddha Yogi from South Yarra, Australia

As I read Swami Ishwarananda's Reflection, I thought about all the ways that Gurumayi teaches us to listen from that space of inner silence and openness that is inherent in our own being.

I am brought back to the very first moment I saw Gurumayi as she walked into Muktananda Mandir in Shree Muktananda Ashram on an autumn day in 1998. In that very first moment, through her being and her every gesture, my Guru revealed to me the supreme nature of silence, and that a still mind reflects the truth of divine union. Whenever I reflect on that moment, I become completely silent.

This year, my sadhana, along with that of Siddha Yogis throughout the world, has been guided by Gurumayi’s Message for 2014: The soundless sound arises and subsides in the space of flawless quietude. I have been making a regular practice of emptying my mind of thoughts, and I watch as the luminous essence of my mind flows like a river of nectar into my heart.

Happy Birthday, Gurumayi! I send you a million blissful thank-yous! Since the moment I met you, my being has been dancing in the bliss of reunion!

a Siddha Yogi from New York, USA

Swami Ishwarananda's Reflection reminded me of a pilgrimage I made to a Kyoto temple called Koryu-ji in the fall of 2011. I saw there a statue of a bodhisattva, an enlightened being, who also "leans forward to hear the petitions of all." I found this statue to be one of the most beautiful and spiritually expressive statues I have ever seen.

And now, in the light of Swamiji's Reflection, I realize that all the qualities that I saw radiating from this statue are those that I have experienced in both Gurumayi and Baba: immense compassion, profound wisdom, nonjudgmental understanding of the human condition, unshakable inner stillness, and total dedication to bringing all the rest of us to their enlightened state.

I am deeply grateful to the Siddha Yoga path for teaching me that such beings exist not just in sacred art but in real life, and that these qualities are inherent in me as well.

a Siddha Yogi from Illinois, USA

So much about Swami Ishwarananda's share touched me. I was especially struck by his understanding of Gurumayi responding to each moment from a place of silence and openness, completely in accord with the needs of the moment.

I felt tears well up in my eyes when I read about Gurumayi sending the shawl to the dying teacher. The beauty in listening from the space of inner silence is that one's actions naturally benefit all. Gurumayi gave a beautiful blessing to the teacher, and at the same time granted a wish very dear to Swamiji's heart.

Reading this story strengthens my resolve to listen with an open heart, both to others and to the subtle, inner promptings that I receive. Thank you, Swamiji, for this powerful Reflection on Gurumayi.

Thank you always, Gurumayi, for teaching us through every word and gesture.

a sevite in Shree Muktananda Ashram