Reflections on Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

Getting in Touch with Consciousness

The year was 1992. The day was Gurupurnima, and there was a satsang with Gurumayi in the Shakti Mandap in Shree Muktananda Ashram. My parents were already following the Siddha Yoga teachings, and they brought me, their five-week-old son, to receive Gurumayi’s darshan at the conclusion of the satsang.

Fast forward to one morning in early May 2021. I was walking through one of the buildings in Anugraha in Shree Muktananda Ashram, since one of my seva duties is to ensure that all of the buildings and grounds in Shree Muktananda Ashram are well maintained. As I turned a corner, I saw that Gurumayi was walking down the corridor toward me. I paused and waited to make space for Gurumayi. When Gurumayi saw me, her face lit up, and she said, “You are the person I wanted to see right now.”

Gurumayi then spoke to me about two maple trees in one of the gardens that she thought might need support and possibly pruning. Gurumayi explained that when these ornamental maple trees in the Ashram are not pruned, they lose their shape and become overgrown, and their branches get too heavy and break. Gurumayi said that in Gurudev Siddha Peeth there are tons of mango trees that are pruned on a regular basis because otherwise they will not bear fruit. Gurumayi asked me to go check on those two maple trees that morning. I couldn’t wait to go to the garden to look at the trees.

The next morning, while I was checking on some of the plants in the front garden of Anugraha, I saw Gurumayi walking on the pathway adjacent to the building. I began to accompany Gurumayi, especially since I wanted to share that I had seen the two trees that Gurumayi had asked me to check on. Gurumayi asked me if any of the trees needed to be pruned. I replied that I didn’t know, and that I was going to look into it further. Gurumayi then asked me to describe my visit to the garden, to give her a fuller picture of what had taken place. I shared that I had visited the garden for about five minutes, and that I had looked at the trees from a distance. I said that I was planning to do research in the documentation and to find out what the standard pruning schedule was for the trees.

Gurumayi said, “Jaiya, you saw those trees from a distance—when I had asked you to go and take a good look at them to make an assessment of how they are doing and what needs to be done? How would the trees know you had come to check on them if you did not show your face to them? They need to know you are coming to care for them. And do you know why? Trees have Consciousness. All animate beings and inanimate objects have Consciousness.

“When you looked at the trees from afar, you did not pay the trees the respect they deserve. You did not see the trees, nor did you allow the trees to see you. Trees are living beings! You need to listen to them, to be with them, to touch their bark and their leaves. Only then will you know what they need. By feeling a tree, by truly connecting with it, by speaking to it and listening, you will be able to tell when a tree is sick, or when a tree needs something.

“This is a natural way of acknowledging the Consciousness in everything. By getting in tune with your surroundings, with the trees and nature under your care, you will naturally sense what needs to be done. And—nature will speak to you.”

From the first moment Gurumayi started speaking, I experienced a profound recognition of what she was teaching me. I could see how many different ways Gurumayi had already been teaching me this understanding of the natural world, especially in the way that I had observed Gurumayi’s own interactions with nature. As I listened intently to Gurumayi, I knew that these teachings were of the utmost importance for me to learn and apply, and that only in doing so could I fulfill my responsibility to ensure that the trees on the Ashram grounds thrive. After receiving these teachings from Gurumayi, I realized that they had given me a new way of seeing and approaching the seva I offer—I knew I would need to develop a new relationship with all of the trees in the Ashram and nature in general.

A few days later I was working with another staff member, who is in charge of the gardens, to prune one of the lilac bushes in the Amrit Courtyard. This is a beautiful bush that was in bloom at that time, and for several weeks prior it had been filling the courtyard with fragrance. When this lilac bush is in bloom, everyone wants to walk through the courtyard to relish its fragrance.

I came to the pruning task with the understanding that this would be my first chance to apply what Gurumayi had taught me about how to connect with the lilac bush and how to receive the communication from this bush. When we began to do the pruning, I stood inside the lilac bush, feeling its branches, silently trying to sense which ones should be kept and which ones should be pruned. As I was doing this, I would get a subtle cue from inside, indicating to me which branches should stay and which should be pruned. After discovering in this way what the bush needed, I would then point out a branch to the other sevite—an expert in pruning—and say, “How about pruning this one?”

More often than not, his eyes would light up and he would say yes, the branch I had felt should be removed would meet his botanical pruning guidelines. When he said this, it was an affirmation of my desire to receive the communication from the trees. It showed me that all I had to do was be silent, listen keenly to their whispers, and pay close attention—and they would tell me what I need to know to support them. I realized just how easeful and effective it was to have this conversation with the bushes and trees.

I was stoked about this new way that Gurumayi had taught me to look at the world and interact with nature, and I wanted to share with my colleagues about it. When I did that, one of the staff members shared with me the story of how she learned how to communicate with the trees, and how to listen to them. She told me that Gurumayi has been teaching this approach to her students for decades. Here is her story, in her words:

In 2005, when I was offering seva as a Gurukula student in Gurudev Siddha Peeth, I had the opportunity to participate in a tour of the Ashram grounds led by a Siddha Yogi who was a very knowledgeable ecologist from France. This Siddha Yogi had been visiting Gurudev Siddha Peeth regularly to offer seva caring for the magnificent trees on the Ashram grounds. On this visit, she invited the Gurukula students who were interested to participate in a tour of the trees of Dakshin Kashi. (Dakshin Kashi is a pristine and sacred area of Gurudev Siddha Peeth that Gurumayi created in the late 1980s to provide an outdoor, natural setting that evokes the Siddha Yoga teachings and supports the Siddha Yoga practices.)

The ecologist began the tour by speaking about the core Siddha Yoga teaching that universal Consciousness pervades everything. She shared how she and others offering seva in the Garden Department had learned from Gurumayi over the years how to listen to trees in the Ashram—and that’s what she was going to teach us! At her instruction, we would each walk up to one of the trees, touch it, stand near it, and remain silent, listening. And then she would ask us, “How is the tree doing?” We then shared what we had heard or felt. And it was uncanny; we all knew—this tree is happy or this tree is unwell. She would then give the scientific and botanical explanations that were in alignment with what we had heard and felt. It was incredible to receive Gurumayi’s wisdom in this way.

As I continue to practice Gurumayi’s teachings as I received them in May 2021, I have been getting to know more of the trees and plants around the Ashram, and learning about the subtleties of listening to their whispers. For example, a large hedge of forsythia shrubs in one of the areas of the Ashram had become overgrown over many years; these shrubs were now ten feet tall and needed to be pruned.

Prior to the pruning, I went to visit and speak with the forsythia shrubs. I walked along the hedge, touching their branches, thanking them for the beauty they have provided to the Ashram for so many years and telling them that we were going to prune them. In my heart, I felt a sense of appreciation from these forsythia shrubs, as if they were very glad that I admired them and had come to spend time with them. I could sense their delight in receiving my close attention. I later realized that this is the same as anything that has life coursing through it: they were so happy to be paid attention to, to be respected, and to be cared for.

As I was communicating with the shrubs, the mantra Om Namah Shivaya was constantly coming to the forefront of my awareness—it was as if I could not not be repeating the mantra while I was with them. I told them that we would need to prune off most of their branches so they could serve and flourish for many years to come. I told them that I was thinking of having them pruned to three feet tall, so they could focus their energy on sprouting new growth. Very graciously, they responded that three feet was a bit too short; four or five feet would be better—it would be less of a shock to their system. And so that is how I proceeded with the pruning.

I have come to understand that this communication, this interaction, and this connection with the Consciousness in these trees is a way of accessing the true inner knowledge that was awakened when I received shaktipat from Gurumayi. I have learned from following the Siddha Yoga path that there is one ubiquitous Consciousness that is the essence of everything. Things that do not have a “voice” in the usual sense of being able to communicate either verbally or through gestures do have a voice—through the Consciousness that underlies, and constitutes, everything. When I connect to this Consciousness, when I pay anything the respect it is due, when I see something and allow it to see me, when I pay attention and ask something what it needs, that is when the communication channel between me and my world flows freely, and I can trust my inner knowledge about who needs what, and what I need to do in any given moment.