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.