Ian Lindsey Douglas, Clinton LA
My great blessing was to serve the karma-body of my Guru by fanning Him. It was my great fortune to fan Sri Swamiji for almost three hours. I was intoxicated with bliss. After fanning Him for about an hour, I felt something very subtle move within me.
I met Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji for the first time in 1988 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I grew up in the Protestant religion and was drafted into the US Army in January, 1966. I was stationed in Vietnam for the first time in March, 1967. I had the good fortune of becoming an officer and a helicopter pilot. I loved being a soldier and served my country well. Soldiers are called upon in time of war to protect their country. In performing my duty, I killed a lot of people. Does it generate bad karma? I do not know.
Most Vietnamese were either Roman Catholic or Buddhist. While in Vietnam, I was exposed to the religion of Buddhism and when I returned to the United States after the war, I began studying Buddhism zealously. After law school, I began my career as an attorney at the Louisianan Attorney General’s Office. I continued my readings on Buddhism, which eventually led me to start meditating. I also began reading books such as ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘The Only Dance There Is’ by Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert, who used to be a professor of psychology at Harvard University and a contemporary of the infamous Timothy Leary. When he and Alpert left the university, Alpert went to India, where he eventually met his Guru, Neem Karoli Baba, who named him Ram Dass. After a period of study, he returned to the United States to write and lecture. His books reflected the core teachings of his Guru, especially the goal of “being here now”.
In my bookcase of law books at the attorney general’s office, I had a small section of spiritual books, including those by Ram Dass. One day, an Asian Indian engineer from down the hall, Narendra Dave, came into my office looking for notarial services. On the spine of one of Ram Dass’ books was the traditional symbol for “Om,” the most basic mantra, the symbol that resembles the numeral “3”. He saw the book on the shelf and asked about it. We began talking about eastern religion and he invited me to meet his Guru, Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamij, who was soon due to arrive in Baton Rouge from India.
Narendra Dave and his wife, Nalini, were devotees of Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji and were instrumental in His visit to Baton Rouge. They had just recently met Sri Swamiji for the first time in London while visiting Narendra’s father. Upon their return to Baton Rouge, Nalini wrote a letter inviting Him to come to Baton Rouge. He wrote back, accepting her invitation, and said thar He would be teaching beginners “Kriya Yoga” class. I attended the week-long Kriya Yoga class that was held in a small building across from the LSU campus. Swami Manasa Datta, then known as Radhakrishna, conducted the classes and Sri Swamiji would often visit at the end of each day. He would sit in a big chair in the front of the room; legs crossed in the traditional lotus posture, and observe the class.
Once, I saw Him materialize something for someone in the class. It appeared to be some sort of a miracle, but my typical western-trained scientific mind stopped me, saying it was just some cheap “sleight of the hand” trick. Upon completion of the course, all the students had the opportunity to go up to Him and receive His blessing. One by one, they went and bowed down before Him. I went up, but instead of bowing down completely, I knelt on one knee like Sir Lancelot kneeling before King Arthur. I looked into His eyes and it was my moment of awakening. My years of study and meditation had come to fruition. Thus began my relationship with Sri Swamiji.
Sri Swamiji returned to Baton Rouge in 1990. Another Kriya Yoga class was conducted, this time with about thirty people in attendance, including myself. As I sat in the room looking at Him, it dawned on me not only how special and divine He was, but how fortunate we all were to be in such a close intimate setting with Him; literally just a few feet away and close enough to touch Him. All around the world, He has many devotees who rarely see Him in person, and in India, thousands flock around Him just to get a brief, distant glimpse of His divine presence. And yet here He was, in the very same room with us.
I had noticed that before His visit, my mind was unsettled, with feelings of self-loathing and unworthiness. I was bewildered, trying to rationalize within my mind that Sri Swamiji was indeed the truly Divine being that I now knew Him to be. Though futile, my mind was still looking for scientific proof. Then when I sat before Him, my mind became quiet and I felt something new. Yes! He truly was Divine in spite of my inability to comprehend or explain. So, I finally gave up trying to figure it out. This miracle; this man, Sri Swamiji, required no explanation.
Later, we attended a function at Narendra’s house. The house could not accommodate all the people so a tent was set up in the yard. When I went there Sri Swamiji had just completed a pooja and was sitting cross-legged on a big chair. I did not take part in the pooja for I did not have much money to offer. I had only one five-dollar bill in my wallet. I sat looking at the devotees going up before Sri Swamiji making offerings of all kinds and receiving His blessings.
I noticed Sri Swamiji calling Narendra and whispered something into his ear. Then Narendra made an announcement: “If there is anyone here who has not yet come to Sri Swamiji, please come now.” Some part of me wanted to go but I felt embarrassed and shy. I sat there nursing my agitated mind. Then Narendra made the same announcement again. This time I was torn between going up and shrinking away into myself. Narendra made the announcement about six times. I could fight no more. With all the courage I could muster, I stood up, opened my wallet and took out that last five-dollar bill. I felt embarrassed and self-conscious, my heart pounding. I moved the few steps toward Sri Swamiji’s chair, placing the five dollars on the small tray beside Him. While looking at His face, He looked at me directly and said, “I knew”. My heart swelled and I returned to my seat, crying.
On Sri Swamiji’s next trip to Baton Rouge, in 1993, the crowd became larger with devotees coming in from other states. On the final day of the program, after the crowds had left, I ended up back at Narendra’s house with about twelve other devotees. We sat in a room with Sri Swamijji as He performed Sri Chakra Pooja. What a rare moment ; so few of us, so close to Him, close enough for me to reach out and touch His robe. At the end of the pooja, the devotees went up one at a time and received His gift of a small medallion placed into our outstretched hand by the hand of Sri Swamiji, Himself.
I sat crossed legged on the floor desperately wanting to speak to Him. I wanted to tell Him how much He really meant to me and how much I would miss Him. When my turn came to go forward, I got up, my heart once again pounding in my chest and rehearsed my line: “I am going to miss you” over and over. When it was my turn to go forward, I knelt down on one knee, stretching my right hand out with open palm to receive this precious token. He put His gift in my hand. Our eyes met and He said to me, “I am going to miss you. “ My very own words and my rehearsed line were said to me by Sri Swamiji. I clasped my token, returned to my seat and, once again with tears streaming down my cheeks in gushes.
Sri Swamiji visited Baton Rouge again in 1995, this time for Guru Purnima. A few months before His visit, I had a painful, uncomfortable sinus operation. While recovering, I had to sleep with my head up. I rented a reclining chair and sat and slept in it all day. My neighbor cooked food and brought it to me. I had my telephone next to the chair so I would not have to get up to answer it. One day, the phone rang; it was Nalini calling to tell me that Sri Swamiji was coming to town and she would like me to wear my military uniform and stand next to Him (as his military Aide dé Camp, as it were). Of course, I immediately said, “yes!” with tears again streaming down my cheeks.
I was very proud of my service in the army, I felt honored to wear the uniform and I wore it proudly. To wear my uniform for Sri Swamiji was a special honor. I got my uniform cleaned for the first time in years, polished my brass, carefully assembled my uniform and patiently waited for the day to wear it. The Guru Purnima function was held at the American Legion Hall. Before going to the program, I went to a lake near LSU where I had seen lotus flowers blooming. I put on my wading boots, plucked one for my Guru and left for the Legion Hall. When I arrived, everyone was already performing the Guru Pooja by offering rice and flowers in plates. Sri Swamiji was sitting in a beautiful chair on the well-decorated stage.
Nanlini came to me and said that it was time. I put on my uniform, placed my lotus flower in my left hand and entered the side door next to the stage. I peeped out, saw the audience and almost panicked. Sri Swamiji was talking and I did not want to interrupt Him. Prasadi was facing Sri Swamiji with his back turned to me. I tried whispering to him, to no avail. I was on my own. I did not know what to do. I stood there for a few seconds and convinced myself that “I am going to do this” and I immediately strode out on the stage. Sri Swamiji stopped His discourse momentarily and faced me. I presented Him with the Lotus flower, saluted Him, took a step back and assumed the military position called “Parade Rest”.
At this point, Prasadi got up, walked over to me and handed me a slender object about eighteen inches long. I had no idea what it was. I thought to myself, “What am I to do with this?” When I touched it with my fingers, I realized that is was a fan. Now I knew. My great blessing was to serve the karma-body of my Guru by fanning Him. It was my great fortune to fan Sri Swamiji for almost three hours. I was intoxicated with bliss. After fanning Him for about an hour, I felt something very subtle move within me. Several months later, a clairvoyant had told me that Sri Swamiji had taken away my Vietnam karma. Of course! How perfect! I was standing in the American Legion Hall, next to my Guru, resplendent in my Vietnam uniform, performing Seva to my beloved Guru on the auspicious day of Guru Purnima, while He quietly and barely without notice took my Vietnam karma away.
In 1997, Sri Swamiji visited Baton Rouge for the consecration of the Datta Temple and Hall of Trinity. By this time, my faith in Him had grown deep and though still inexplicable to me, I had begun to see more and more of His miracles. Many times, for instance, I had seen Him call for his “TV tray,” the silver platter and a flower from which He would manifest vhibuti, the sacred ash, or the intensely crimson kumkum. On this visit, I was sitting in the audience very close to the front and He was on the stage sitting in His chair. He called for His tray and His platter. He picked up a white chrysanthemum and as I had seen Him done countless times before, He took the flower between His hands and slowly began massaging it until either vhibuti or kumkum came out. This time it was kumkum; crimson red.
He set the chrysanthemum back on the tray and held His hands in front of Him, palms forward facing the audience; crimson red. His entire palms were covered in crimson, as were each of His fingers. He handed the tray to the attendant, who began to distribute the powder to the audience, but I could not take my eyes off the tray and the white chrysanthemum. When the program was over and Sri Swamiji left the hall, I walked slowly over to the tray with the chrysanthemum still on it.
Spotlessly white! The chrysanthemum was spotlessly white and had not the first speck of crimson anywhere on it. Yet I had seen with my own eyes the kumkum come pouring out, had seen with my own eyes the crimson covered hands which had caressed the flower to coax it forth.
In 2009, when Sri Swamiji came again to Baton Rouge, I went for His darshan. I had thought about it many times, but except for the brief personal encounters mentioned previously and a few others, I had never requested a formal interview with Him. Though I had thought about it, I had dismissed it from my mind. I considered myself too unworthy, too unsure of what to ask, what to say; too scared, too this, too that, too, too, too…. too anything and too everything to allow me to approach.
On this particular day, there was no program. A few people were gathered on the sidewalk outside the interview room, waiting their turn to go inside. Then I thought, “This has gone on long enough”. It had been over twenty years. I wanted to talk to Him. I saw my friend, Mukunda, and a few other American devotees talking quietly near the door to the interview room. I slowly walked over and joined them. “Are ya’ll waitin to go inside?” I asked. “Yes”, someone replied. We began babbling like children on a playground. Who would go first? How many would go in together? And in what order we should go?
We waited nervously, babbled excitedly. Someone handed out a single rose bud to each of us. The door opened. Two devotees exited quickly, walking away quietly. Mukunda, the “palace centurion”, or “guardian of the gate”, held the door and motioned us in. We formed a group of five and went in single file, me in the middle. Sri Swamiji was sitting in a beautiful wing-back chair with His legs folded beneath Him. The carpet under His chair was strewn with flowers and next to His chair was a small table containing a vase of roses and a small silver tray filled with token gifts; medallions, beads and such. He looked so majestic, so calm and so peaceful.
We formed a semi-circle facing Him and sat on our knees. One at a time, we leaned or crawled forward, placing our roses on the carpet with the other flowers. When we resumed our position in the semi-circle, Sri Swamiji greeted each of us with a “Hello”, and “How are you?” We each answered in our own fashion. When He turned to me I said something like: how beautiful the room was; how beautiful He was; how aglow the room was. I had no question for there was no question to ask. Then He went on to the next person and then the next. Now the time had come to go forward and receive His blessing and token of affection, given us as a reward for our devotion.
I watched with amazement at what happened next. Acting on pure instinct, like Sir Lancelot kneeling in 1988, like the military, Aide dé Camp saluting in 1995, on hustling knees, I moved close to Him, reached out with my left hand, caressed His hair and held His head in the palm of my hand. With my right hand and His together we clasped hands by our fingertips. And then, He reached out with His hand, patted me gently on the top of my head and caressed my hair. We held each other such for some few moments; who can say how long? The moment was over, I returned to my place, my water-filled eyes overflowing, sending rivers of tears streaming down my face once again.
I sat trembling, trying to compose myself. I heard His voice in the background, but took little notice of it; I was too shaken at first to listen. Then I realized He was talking to me. He said, “You have a beautiful heart. I want you to join my mission”. And so I did. I joined Sri Swamiji’s mission. Some time after that, a devotee asked me, “What do you think your mission is?” I replied, “I don’t know. I don’t have any idea.” Some people have said that I have a beatific smile. I, too, have seen its effect on others from time to time. I think it is my smile. I think maybe my smile is my mission. Jaya Guru Datta.