John Sheppard, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
At that point also, it looked as though His face broke up into a bunch of small mirrors with flashing lights instead of just a normal human face; however I could still see His eyes.
I met His Holiness Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji in 1988, on His inaugural visit to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I worked with in the same building with an engineer, Narendra Dave. His wife Nalini and he were hosting Sri Swamiji at their home. I learnt that Narendra’s father was an old devotee of Sri Swamiji who lived in England.
I was visiting a co-worker in his office and Nalini and Narendra were there. I was introduced to Nalini and she mentioned that a yogi from India was coming to Baton Rouge. I really liked Nalini and Narendra both. Nalini said, “John there are lots of yogi and gurus, but you must come and see Sri Swamiji for He is the real thing.” She said it with such conviction, and seeing her as such a bright and intelligent person, it convinced me that, maybe, this could be the real thing. On the day He arrived, my wife and my two girls went to Narendra’s house.
During that visit there were thirty to forty persons, including my family, in the audience. When I first laid eyes on Him I was sitting with my young daughters, less than ten feet from Sri Swamiji and He was looking at the group. He was sitting at a coffee table on a couch, with a key board in front of Him. I never associated a Holy person with a keyboard, moreover, one with modern musical instrument. That was not my idea of a Guru, but anyway I was looking at the whole scenario and just studying this new person sitting in front me.
I saw His eyes fell on my younger daughter and He smiled this big smile. At that point also it looked as though His face broke up into a bunch of small mirrors with flashing lights instead of just a normal human face; however I could still see His eyes. This lasted for a very short while, but it stopped me in my tracks. A few months later I was discussing this phenomenon with my co-worker, in the office, where I had met Narendra and Nalini before. He too thought that that was his ‘illusion if grandeur’ and never discussed it. He had witnessed the same thing. That was my first indication that Sri Swamiji was very special being.
Later He taught a Kriya Yoga class for three days, with Radhakrishna, now Swami Manasa Ananda Datta Pada Renu. Most people took the classes partially or totally. He also performed Sri Chakra Pujas at Narendra’s home. Sri Swamiji’s next visit was in 1990, and again I signed up and took the Kriya Yoga class with Sri Swamiji and Swami Manasa. Then in 1993 He came back and offered another Kriya Yoga class which I took again for the third time, and by this time I was totally drawn to Him.
I didn’t really know much about Him except my personal interactions with Him, not with Him personally. There was a small group of devotees, but I was very drawn to Him. I guess by 1993, I could call myself a devotee. In 1995 He selected the site for the temple and in 1997 He inaugurated the ‘Datta Temple, Hall of Trinity and the Jayalakshmi Mata Bhavan” in Baton Rouge.
In any event, as time went on, for years I didn’t see Him perform miracles. I saw Him basically as more of a human being, a Guru, and a yogi, but I didn’t really understand or come to glimpse of His divine nature. In 1970 I took a course in transcendental mediation and by 1971 I was practicing, so I had some experience with it. In 1997 I began practicing Kriya yoga, and this advanced my mediation practice. My mediation was deeper and seemed to last longer when I did exercise that Swamiji taught.
In 1997, Sri Swamiji materialized a gold Ganapati, out of a flower, and gave it to me. That’s the first time I had seen Sri Swamiji perform a miracle. During the Prana Prastitha, of the temple, one day a group of us were seated in the temple around noon time. I noticed that Sri Swamiji was twirling a flower in His hand that was given to Him by someone. He asked Narendra to have me come up and see Him. I walked up and being a shy person I did not know what to expect. I stood in front of Him, and He jokingly said, “Look, there is something in here”. I stared in the flower and He reached in and I saw a golden flash; just kind like the color of the sun, but smaller than the size of a pencil eraser. He pulled out a Ganapati Idol from the flower and placed it in my hand.
I didn’t know what it was but as He pressed it into my palm and I knew something very special was happening. I knew enough of Indian spirituality to know this was a special thing, when I saw this thing coming out of a flower, I knew it couldn’t be a flower. I recognized that this is not just an ordinary human being, in front of me, but this was another order of beings. I already loved him, but as a devotee having such a personal and powerful experience was a real mile stone in my belief.
My wife and two daughters are His devotees; they fell in love with Him and they all have been practicing His yoga. This has created a bond among my family members over and above the kinship we share. This thing, this path that we are on together it’s not just a nominal religion. It’s a great thing to have this kind of relationship with my daughters, not just a father daughter relationship, we are spiritual friends. We have this thing that we are doing and it ties us together in a different sort of a way.
When I met Sri Swamiji I wasn’t much into religion at all. I was raised a protestant in a Methodist church in Baton Rouge. By the time I got into college I didn’t really feel a strong spiritual connection to the church. My wife was a practicing Catholic; I went to Church with her and the kids, so they would have a church orientation growing up. It was more of an ornament to my life and wasn’t a big part of my deal. Sri Swamiji gave me religion. My spiritual persuasion is not a chore or an obligation. It is something I enjoy joyously doing, Years ago I couldn’t imagined doing something like this.
Religion and spirituality are two different things. What I am saying is, I think Sri Swamiji has given me spirituality but in the western sense of religion, He also gave a religious affiliation, a connection to an institution. That’s what I mean by religion; a connection to an actual institution, a group or a community. There are people who are connected to religious groups that are not necessarily spiritual, but here, there is both. I have a community that I am involved with, a sense of direction. I have a practice and it’s not the same practice that everybody else here have, but we all share the same body of practice that we can pick and choose.
In the 23rd psalms of the Bible, it says, “The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want……., and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever,” and that’s what Swamiji is for me. He is the personification of 23rd psalms. I Know He is. I feel that if I do the right thing, Sri Swamiji will bless me and that He will lead me forever. He is the goal and the path. He is the means and the end; he is the flower and the fruit. It is very difficult to really understand a being like Sri Swamiji. As a westerner, I had no idea that beings like Sri Swamiji existed. I believe that Jesus was like that. I actually now have a much better appreciation of Jesus, knowing Swamiji. I didn’t believe Jesus performed miracles I thought those things that people made up to embellish the story. But now I realize that he did, he’s like Swamiji because I have seen Swamiji do these things.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of a spiritual connection and someone who you trust and look upon aw a totally trustworthy spiritual guide. Swamiji said not long ago, “Your spiritual development is my responsibility” That’s realty good thing to have a being, like Sri Swamiji, takes on the responsibility of our spiritual development if we just follow a few rules and do a few simple things. It is a miracle that I have been able to live during that time that He is on this earth. To fall under His influential miracle is most important.
Jaya Guru Datta