I sat in a lab at the University of California in the early 1970s, electrodes attached to my head and body. As an Ananda member I had been invited to participate in an early attempt to study what meditation does to the brain. Ever since then I’ve had an interest in these kinds of scientific studies.
We were staying at a little hotel near Rome. It fronted on a popular beach where hundreds of Italians came with their families: some swam or lounged on the warm sand, others jogged or walked along the promenade, and still others were there to see and be seen. It was a charming little slice of life. But early each morning when the beach was abandoned, a different scene caught my eye. Around 7:00 a.m. a car would pull into one of the parking slots, and an old woman would get out. Then she would reach into the back for a bag and trudge slowly toward the sand.
In medieval times, Damascus steel was famous throughout Europe and the Middle East because it surpassed all other types of steel with its strength and flexibility. Damascus, in southwestern Syria, became a center for the production of highly prized swords and armor. Their specialized steel-making process was one of the great industrial secrets of the times. It turns out, interestingly, that the ability to make this kind of steel probably originated in India, where it is known to have existed as early as 300 BC, and may even go back to the time of the Bhagavad Gita.
Swami Kriyananda was very drawn to places where Mary, the mother of Jesus, has appeared. One of these places, Medjugorje, is a pilgrimage spot for millions. When Swami visited there, he was elderly and unable to walk up the long, steep hill to get to the holy spot where Mary had appeared to the young children. In his chair, he was carried there joyfully by a group of six young men, whom he blessed in return. It was a deep and sacred moment in his life. This is a touching example of Divine Mother’s love in action, but there is an even more beautiful back-story.
Today, as I write this, there is a full eclipse of the sun. This rare event happens when the moon passes directly between the earth and the sun. Even though the moon is hundreds of times smaller than the sun, the apparent size of the two bodies seems the same because the moon is so much closer to the earth. During a full eclipse only the corona, the intensely hot outer rim of the sun is visible. Normally, this cannot be seen, but it is as if Divine Mother wants to give us an occasional demonstration of the precision of Her universe.
A friend wrote recently asking for advice about problems at work. His job is in a competitive environment where others disrupt the harmony, compete in unfair ways, and take credit for work they haven’t done themselves. While this was expressed as a personal problem, it is in fact a nearly universal experience, to be found in families, governments, and, indeed, in groups everywhere. I tried to answer his question on two levels, first from the level of ego, and then from the spiritual, soul level.
In 2005 Devi and I arrived in India for a three-week visit with Swami Kriyananda, who had moved there in 2003. The day we landed, Swamiji had begun writing what was to be perhaps his greatest book: The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda. Though still playing the loving host to us and others, and despite the fact that he was in his eightieth year, Swamiji set himself the goal of writing ten pages a day for this book.
Yesterday, after finishing some programs at the Ananda center in Sacramento, California, Devi and I had a few errands to run. Later, having finished our shopping, we were pulling onto the freeway entrance when we saw a family beside the road. The wife and child were sitting on a blanket, and the husband was holding a sign saying, “Our family is homeless. Can you help us?” Though we had but a moment to act, we lowered our window and gave them a small donation. But when we got home, Devi, remembering their eyes, remarked, “I wish we had given them much more,” and I, too, had the same feeling. That evening we both prayed for them during our meditation.
John Ball was a highly regarded author and a friend of Swami Kriyananda and many of us at Ananda. His most famous book, In the Heat of the Night, garnered a number of literary awards, and later was made into a movie that won four Oscars, including Best Picture in 1967. He so enjoyed Ananda Village that the setting for one of his books, Trouble for Tallon, was an Ananda-like community.
I am laptopping this from the Seattle Airport, where we’re waiting to fly back to California after a weekend of programs in Seattle. Airports are great levelers, as Devi and I know, queuing up for more than twenty-five flights each year. One sees people from all over the world: dark skin and light, baseball caps and turbans, families and friends chatting in English, Italian, Hindi, and languages we can’t even recognize. All is marvelous diversity, but while at the airport we are all just fellow passengers. And so it is also on this little planet flying through space: we are all just fellow travellers. If we can but see the unity behind the diversity, we can all be friends. We can all be family. We can all speak the same language of the heart.