In January, four leaders from PEKI, including Rosanna, came to the Village for two months. They stayed together, with Keshava as their American host, in a small, four-bedroom house next door to Swamiji. They brought their guitars, their music, and their love for God, expressed with a joyous spontaneity natural to Italians, less natural to Americans.
“In America, even sincere devotees have a tendency to become so absorbed in work,” Swamiji said, “that they forget the importance of simply loving God. Italians have a genius for devotion.” Ananda could have a good effect on PEKI, he said, but the greater benefit would be their influence on us.
Only one of the four—not Rosanna—spoke English, so a great deal of communication was through music, meditation, prayer, sign language, intuition, and occasionally a translator. Somehow we managed to get acquainted. Rosanna, especially, made a wonderful impression. In PEKI, they prayed out loud. Not responsive prayers the way we did, but spontaneously sharing in a group, a personal flow of inspiration.
When Rosanna prayed in this way, Swamiji would often translate. His vibration speaking English exactly matched hers speaking Italian. Her prayers did not follow any predictable form. She spoke simply, from her own experience. No one at Ananda prayed the way she did. Hearing her opened the door to a world of possibilities most of us had never considered. Not in how we behaved outwardly, but how, in our hearts, we could relate to God.
It is the Italian custom to say hello and goodbye with a hug and a kiss to both sides of the face, or at least in the general direction of the face. Every entrance and exit, whenever the Italians were around, was an event in itself. They never missed an opportunity to reaffirm our bonds as brothers and sisters in God.
When Swamiji left for a long trip, sometimes he would hug each of us good-bye, and people naturally hugged each other from time to time. As a community, though, we were not demonstrative; the monastic influence was too strong. Out of respect for the monks and nuns, even married couples seldom expressed affection in public. Now all that began to change.
“Human love is not separate from divine love,” Swamiji said. “Too much dryness between people often results in a dryness also in our relationship with God.”
It was not our custom to include children in adult events, especially if Swamiji was involved. The consciousness of children is so different from that of adults, “I can’t reach both with the same intuitive flow,” he said. “I have to communicate with one group or the other.” Rosanna loved children and felt everything was better if children were there—the more the merrier. We still kept the adults only rule for classes and spiritual events, but with the Italians we had many informal, social gatherings to which every child was invited.
PEKI sang their songs and taught them to us. They also used guitars for chanting. A few people in the community led chanting that way, but mostly we used a harmonium, as Master did.
It was difficult in a group, though, to keep the rhythm steady with only a single harmonium. Sometimes Swamiji cut his chanting short because people couldn’t stay with him. For several years he had been meditating on whether to add guitar. The chords awakened the heart and strumming made it easier to follow the rhythm. He was reluctant, though, to diverge from Master’s way in something so fundamental as chanting. But the example of PEKI persuaded him.
In 1978, Swamiji had suggested a five-year plan to bring the community’s net annual income to a million dollars. Some people doubted that we could do it, but we did—and more. We were hardly wealthy; we always seemed to expand faster than we earned. The World Brotherhood Retreat, for example, was still a long way from being done. Just before the property taxes were due, the Village bulletin included gentle reminders, “Now is the time to get current on all your fees.” Paying the tax bill was always cause for celebration.
In a community meeting in March, Swamiji spoke about the fire and the decision we made then to focus on building our financial base. We had achieved our million dollar goal—and surpassed it. We couldn’t abandon that effort, but perhaps we could add to it “deeper devotion from the heart.”
Ananda was too big now for each person to relate closely with everyone else. We decided to divide the community into smaller families. These groups could meditate together, meet socially, and more easily form bonds of friendship. When guests came to the Retreat, they could become honorary members of one of these families, bringing them more into the life of the community.
At first we called the groups Mandalas, but Swamiji didn’t feel that was exactly right. He meditated, not only on the need of the moment, but how this could serve Master’s work in a larger way.
He suggested we call the groups Nature Channels. We shared with the emerging ecology movement a deep concern over mankind’s growing indifference—even opposition—to Nature. Swamiji said that the nature devas, and other angelic beings in charge of this planet, finding themselves unable to influence mankind toward harmony with Nature, were abandoning the effort, leaving us to face on our own the consequences of our actions.
Each Channel would take responsibility for one expression of Nature: birds, trees, stars, flowers, mountains, or rivers. Swamiji wrote a song, explaining what each expression has to teach us. The Mother we sing to is Divine Mother acting through Nature. We would be channels, not only for the angels and devas, but for Divine Mother Herself.
Birds sing of freedom as they soar lightly on the air.
So may our hearts soar, high above all curbs and care.
Trees, standing firm, hold the secret of inner power.
Give us, when tested, strength to endure.
Stars send a message of light through eternity:
Lord, when in darkness, Your radiance we see.
Flowers so soft and fragile stay fragrant though pressed to the ground.
May we thus learn forbearance, for in kindness love is found.
Mountains, remote and still, hint at higher worlds unseen.
So may our lives be: soaring and serene.
Rivers seek passage, unhindered by rock or tree.
So may our lives flow, steadfast toward the sea!
Between each verse is the same chorus:
Mother, we thank You, Your joy shines in everything!
Open these channels that the world once more may sing.
There is an interesting parallel between the Nature Channels and the Swami Order organized by Adi Shankaracharya many centuries ago. In Autobiography of a Yogi, Master explains that the ancient Order had ten subdivisions, including Giri (mountain), Sagar (sea), Bharati (land), Aranya (forest), Puri (tract), Tirtha (place of pilgrimage), and Saraswati (wisdom of Nature). A swami’s formal name included the division to which he belonged.
Master writes, “The new name thus has a twofold significance and represents the attainment of supreme bliss (ananda) through some divine quality or state—love, wisdom, devotion, service, yoga—and through a harmony with Nature as expressed in her infinite vastness of oceans, mountains, and skies.”
Every aspect of Nature has its own vibration, Swamiji explained. Deserts, for example, are places of purification. Over long cycles of history, when a civilization becomes so corrupt it is destroyed, a desert comes in to purify the land itself. Buried under the sands of the Sahara are many relics of ancient civilizations. Deserts feel outside the cycle of time.
Mountains stand above worldly vibrations. Think of the Himalayas, the dwelling place, even today, of great saints and masters like Babaji. Oceans are energizing to the body and the spirit. Their vastness inspires thoughts of the vastness of God. Master told Swamiji that when he needed rejuvenation, he should go to the ocean. An open field makes one feel close to Mother Earth.
According to our own karmic patterns, we will sometimes feel drawn to one expression more than another, but it is good to meditate in all areas, and draw what each has to give. Everything in this world is a symbol of a higher reality.
“When I went to Egypt,” Swamiji said, “what I expected to feel was something ancient being purified. I was surprised when, instead, I tuned into a much earlier time. The melodies I heard were of a happy, contented, harmonious people, cooperating with each other and with Nature. The land reflected their consciousness; it was green and fertile. Only later, as the yugas descended, did Egypt fall into black magic. As a consequence, the civilization collapsed, and the desert took over.
“All the music for what became the Egyptian Suite, was in 2/4 or 4/4 time. 6/8 is more mystical, but that was not the feeling I got. In relation to God, Egypt was formal, masculine, everything was done in a group. It was not intimate and personal, the way India is.
“Later, someone choreographed a dance to one of the pieces, Entering the Novitiate. She naturally interpreted it the way we approach spirituality at Ananda—one soul in relation to God. I had to tell her it was all wrong. Egypt wasn’t individual; it was a group society.”
Tuning into places and expressing their vibrations in music began for Swamiji in Egypt. Then he created Rumanian Memories, inspired from his childhood and his experience there in 1979, the music illustrated by the slides he took. In May, he visited Sorrento again and created Mediterranean Magic. Soon the music had a life of its own; many songs became Ananda favorites, their origins forgotten.
In the last year, Swamiji’s father had been growing weaker and weaker. He had had a heart attack from which he never really recovered. In February, when the doctors said there was nothing more they could do, Ray stopped taking his medications. It was Shivaratri, one of the holiest days in the Indian calendar and a very auspicious time to die. Swamiji prayed for his father and he died that very night.
“That last year was extremely difficult for him,” Swamiji said. “It would have been better if he had been allowed to die when the first heart attack came. Immediately after his death, I felt his consciousness as it was when I was a child and he, a young man—courageous, joyful, filled with energy and enthusiasm.”
Ray and Gertrude had been married for sixty years. Theirs was an unusually close and harmonious relationship. “I never knew them to have a disagreement,” Swamiji said. Six months after Ray died, Gertrude had a cerebral hemorrhage and went into a coma. Swamiji decided not to make the four-hour drive to the hospital. “I can do more for her staying here, meditating and praying.” She never regained consciousness; two days later, she died.
Swamiji was her firstborn. She prayed, “Lord, this first child I give to you.” Intuitively she knew that this child had already given himself to God. All during that pregnancy, she said, “I felt like the Madonna.”
“The greatest blessing of my early life,” Swamiji said, “was my mother’s prayers for me.” When Gertrude came to visit him at Mount Washington, he asked Master to bless her. Just as she was leaving, Master took her hand and prayed out loud with great fervor, naming all the Gurus, asking each one to bless her. “I’m not sure what Mother thought about it,” Swamiji said, “but I was deeply moved.”
Her funeral service was at the Episcopal Church she always attended. Swamiji had added words to the first movement of the sonata he wrote for her. He played the piano and Kalyani sang. “At the beginning of the service,” Swamiji said, “I could feel my mother clinging to me. She still had some attachment to me and was fearful of going into the Light. But then I felt her let go and turn toward the Light.” Swamiji wept as he told us.
He received a generous inheritance, which created a dilemma about how to spend it. “My father never gave a dime to Ananda. He even admonished me for doing so: ‘You simply must stop giving away all your money!’ I felt his soul would not be at peace if I gave the inheritance to Ananda, and my soul would not be at peace if I didn’t!”
The solution he hit upon was to turn his house into a spiritual center for the whole community, building on to it and adding beautiful gardens. It would still be “Swamiji’s house,” but his private quarters would be just one small part.
His bedroom had been built into the hillside under the dome; his office was a separate wing. The kitchen was in the dome itself. When Swamiji had guests, cooking was done just a few feet from where they sat with him, trying to converse over the sound of running water and banging pot lids. There was a small table in the entryway, but unless Swamiji was dining alone, couches and chairs had to be shifted and a table set up in the living room.
Swamiji designed another wing, with a large kitchen at the far end, and a dining room and library in between, linked to the dome by a foyer and a wide gallery that led to the Sun Room, a place for private conversations and where guests could stay overnight. All the partitions in the dome were removed, making it large enough to hold the whole community. Despite years of effort, the dome still leaked, so Swamiji built a roof over it, protecting it from the rain and providing a consistent roofline with the rest of the building.
Uphill from the dome, he suggested terraced gardens, a pond, and a covered walkway. Downhill from the dome, he put in a natural looking swimming pool, with rocks, ferns, and a small waterfall. There was also a wading pool for children and a wide terrace. With the canyon as the backdrop, the terrace was a perfect stage for concerts, plays, weddings, and other events.
Cars still had to park fifty yards away. Steps had been cut into the hillside, but looking to the future when that walk might be difficult for him, Swamiji suggested putting in a driveway to make access easier.
When Parameshwari left Ananda, she went back to Eric, joined SRF, and began speaking against Swamiji. But when her marriage collapsed, and she found herself alone, now with a baby to support, it was to Swamiji she turned for help. In the summer, she wrote to him, asking if she could come live at Ananda—not with him, but on her own with her child. But first, she wanted Swamiji to guarantee that she would have a house and a job in the community.
Swamiji responded, “From the worldly point of view, your concern about providing for yourself and your child is normal. Few would fault you for it. To the worldly mind, to think otherwise would seem irresponsible.
“But time and again at Ananda, we’ve seen that the person who concentrates on finding security in a worldly way, never finds it. Whereas the one who thinks about serving God Alone is always provided for.
“In the world, people take great pains to get good jobs, save money, invest wisely. Then they get fired from their jobs, use up all their money on medical bills, or lose it to thieves. Only for those who have good karma from past generosity does it work out. The truth is: there is no security in the world. Nor, for that matter, is there any security at Ananda. I hope Ananda will continue to thrive; I expect so. But on what sound facts do I base this expectation? None. God Alone is the only answer.
“I’m not trying to convince you of this. In fact, I’m going to suggest just the opposite: get a job, an apartment, and all the freedom and security you have in mind. You have to make your own discoveries.
“The wisest thing may be to live near one of the SRF churches, so you can attend their services and get closer to Master and God. You’ll find better paying jobs there in Southern California than in Nevada County and have more freedom in that sense.
“Although freedom really is a state of mind. I marvel at how free, on every level, Ananda members are. To worldly minds, it may not look like freedom, though, because our dedication and self-discipline lie outside their spheres of interest.
“I will not offer you any reassurance in the way you are asking. I won’t play games in a matter of this importance. For I am your friend—perhaps more than you will ever know.”
Swamiji’s advice to people was not always as straight-forward as it seemed. Many wanted him to “Tell me what to do!” But only rarely would he respond to such a request. Giving advice that a person didn’t also feel from his own intuition never worked out in the long run. Suppressed energy just came out later in a harder-to-deal-with manner.
“Sometimes,” Swamiji said, “in order to preserve a friendship, I have had to go along with a mistake, rather than standing against what a person was determined to do. People think God has specific, detailed plans for our lives. This is not true. God wants us to develop those attitudes that will help us be in tune with Him. A ‘mistake’ is choosing a path where that will be harder to do. Not impossible, just harder. If I can stay a person’s friend, often I can help him turn even a mistake into a good thing.”
A man asked Swamiji for advice on an important decision. In fact, he was already committed to a course of action, one Swamiji would have advised against. “I bless you,” Swamiji said. “I always bless you.” The man left thinking Swamiji had approved the decision, when in fact he had merely affirmed their friendship. When the course of action proved disastrous, Swamiji was able then to help the man put his life back together.
His primary concern in any situation was not the details, but the overall flow of energy. If the energy was right, everything else would follow. Sometimes Swamiji’s words, even when clear and specific, were not meant literally, but intended to shift the energy, or preserve the friendship. “Everything follows from friendship,” Swamiji said. You had to listen to his advice not only with your mind, but also with heart and intuition.
A man in the community fell in love with a woman. The issue he brought to Swamiji, though, was, “How can I deepen my spiritual life?” His self-image, in fact his self-worth, depended on being a solitary devotee seeking God Alone. He couldn’t admit even to himself that he had formed a strong, personal attachment.
Swamiji knew the man’s heart, but replied bluntly, “If you want to grow spiritually, join the monastery.” One of the techniques of Superconscious Living is to keep exaggerating a wrong attitude until you yourself rebel against it. In this case, the attitude the man needed to correct was trying to mold himself to an external form, rather than attuning to his own heart and to God’s guidance within. Swamiji’s statement so shocked him that he responded, “No! I want to get married!” Which opened the door for Swamiji to say, “For you, either path is fine. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself and with God.” Eventually the couple did marry, and the relationship proved happy, and spiritually beneficial to both.
With Parameshwari, in guiding her away from Ananda, Swamiji was challenging her to repudiate her worldly attitude and declare herself for God Alone. Otherwise, there was no point in her coming back. She never did return, but stayed in Southern California with SRF.
In October, Swamiji went back to Europe for two months. He had done a lecture tour in the spring, so this trip was mostly unscheduled, except for seeing friends in Italy, giving Kriya in London, and taking photographs of a few churches in Paris.
Swamiji had kept in touch with Rosanna and other members of the Pastorale—the leaders of PEKI—about how they might work together. It wasn’t always easy at a distance to have a meeting of the minds, so several members of the Pastorale came to Rome to meet with him.
When the others went back to Sorrento, Rosanna went with Swamiji to Greece. He had an idea for a show about Greek myths, and wanted to take some photos there. They also visited Patmos, where Saint John lived and wrote the Book of Revelations. Then they went to Israel. Jesus was the heart of Rosanna’s spiritual life; for her, visiting the Holy Land was a dream come true. Later Swamiji said that the deep inspiration he felt there was amplified by her devotion. “Every devotee of Christ,” he said, “should visit Jerusalem.”
Swamiji took many photographs, and when they returned to Sorrento in November, he began to organize them into a show. One morning he woke up with several melodies in his mind, each expressing the inspiration he felt at specific points in the pilgrimage. Since they had come so easily, he deliberately concentrated on other places they had visited, and found melodies flowing effortlessly into his consciousness. In one day he received twenty songs, which he sang into a recorder.
By the time he left Sorrento for London, he had a show of some three hundred slides, with thirty-four songs to go with them, half of them with lyrics. When it was time to leave for San Francisco, Swamiji realized he had been working so hard, he couldn’t face the holiday season without first getting some rest. He wanted to take a week by himself in Spain, but there was a Kriya Initiation scheduled for December at the Village, and he was the only one who could give it.
Swamiji’s own right to give Kriya was a point of serious contention with SRF; to authorize anyone else would inflame the controversy. But if Ananda were to continue beyond his lifetime, something would have to be done. Already Jyotish had given several private initiations; now Swamiji made it public. Jyotish was the first person Swamiji authorized to initiate people into Kriya.
When Swamiji arrived in San Francisco, he invited a dozen of us to come to his room on the top floor of Ananda House to hear the melodies he had received for the Oratorio that he was writing: the life of Christ in music. On a tiny electric keyboard, he played a single line of notes, telling us which holy site each melody expressed. We understood Swamiji’s creative process; the only possible response was to match his enthusiasm with our own. Later we laughed about it with him, as he was the only one in the room who heard in those tinny notes the glorious Oratorio it became.
Swamiji’s home at the Village was a construction zone. His downstairs room was untouched, but with all the construction noise it was not the place to write music. David and I lived nearby. We didn’t work at home, or write music, so the noise wouldn’t be a problem. We moved into his room, and he went to our house.
His room had been built while he was in seclusion in India after finishing The Path. It gave him more privacy, and also shored up the foundation of the dome, which was so weak, Swamiji feared the whole thing might roll down the hill into the river.
He had expressed only gratitude for the room, so I was astonished to discover how uncomfortable it was. A large porch extended from the living room above, so with the hill on one side, and a huge eave shadowing the only windows, it felt like a cave. There was no sunshine; the light was dim even in the daytime. The wood stove didn’t work properly—it had been put in wrong—so it was always cold. Even one person walking across the living room sounded like a migrating herd of large animals.
Later, when I mentioned to Swamiji how unsuitable his room was, he immediately changed the subject. He wasn’t going to complain. Building new quarters for himself was on the list, but in last place, after all the community areas were done.
Swamiji kept no schedule; he just worked on the Oratorio, meditated, slept, and ate occasional meals prepared for him by Karin Levin, now his full-time cook and housekeeper. Karin was from the Tyrol and set up a Christmas tree in the living room in the European way, with real candles. One side of the room was all windows. In the daytime, Swamiji enjoyed the expansive view. At night, the candles on the tree reflected in the window as dozens of tiny points of light.
He spent many hours sitting on the couch, writing lyrics. The words were so few, a computer was no advantage. Paper and pencil allowed him to tune in more sensitively. His secretary came over every day, but Swamiji refused to put his mind to anything except the absolute essentials. When he needed a break, he invited a few friends over for dinner.
Many multi-talented people, Swamiji said, don’t accomplish much in any field because their energy is always divided. To keep that from happening, he gave his total concentration to one project at a time. “When I write books,” he said, “I can’t even imagine how I could ever write music. When I’m writing music, I can’t remember how to write books.”
Devi said, “When Swamiji was working on the Oratorio, even when he was with people, his mind never left the music. He was always gracious, but you could see it was difficult for him to relate to us. I felt he had to translate words into melody before they made sense to him. Sometimes I think he couldn’t remember my name, but tried to identify me by deciding which key I was in: B flat? G minor?”
Most composers, Swamiji said, think only of the notes that are needed. “They don’t consider how the musicians will feel when they play it, or the singers when they sing. The alto part is usually written last, out of whatever notes are required to finish the chord. I try to make every part an interesting melody in itself. The music will sound more beautiful if the singers are inspired by what they are singing.”
As he finished each piece, Swamiji passed it on to the choir, soloist, or musician to learn and perform for him. He had received the melodies; it was rare for him to change even one note. But sometimes when a piece was performed he would discover a discrepancy between what he heard in his mind and what he’d written down on paper. Or small adjustments in the lyrics made the songs easier or more beautiful to sing.
He often worked late into the night. “When inspiration comes, I have to respond,” he said. Once, after midnight, he called and asked me to come over. “This is the song for the Crucifixion,” he said. He read me the lyrics, then asked, “What do you think?”
Giving Swamiji feedback, even when he asks, is a delicate art. One has to be both supportive and sincere. I responded, “Not every song will be the best one in the Oratorio.”
“Thank you,” he said, “that’s just what I wanted to know.” At dawn the next morning he called again. This time, the lyrics were perfect for You Remain Our Friend.
During his last trip to Italy, Swamiji had met an old friend, Alessandra Bonsignore. Her family had a villa in northern Italy, on Lake Como, near Milan. She offered it to Swamiji to use as an Ananda center. It was the ideal place for PEKI and Ananda to begin a work together; they agreed to start in the spring.
Seven members of PEKI served as the Pastorale; the other thirty or so were lay members. They all loved Master and practiced Kriya, but the group started as Charismatic Catholics and were still oriented that way. Working with the Church was central to their mission; the local priest was one of the Pastorale. In our shared love for God, Ananda and PEKI had one heart. Theologically, though, there were differences.
Swamiji called the Oratorio Christ Lives in the Holy Land—and in You. “Before this,” he said, “I wrote music to express a thought. Now I am writing music to express a vibration.” He hoped the living presence of Christ, experienced through the Oratorio, would bridge the gap between PEKI and Ananda, and through PEKI, inspire in others a deeper love for Jesus.
“The inspiration I felt in the Holy Land was complete in itself,” Swamiji said. “Expressing it did not make it deeper for me. The thought, however, that translating my experience into music could build a bridge to the churches, deeply inspired me and drove me to work unceasingly until the Oratorio was completed.”