Padma Phyllis Turk, DRC, USA
He said, “It’s okay, don’t worry. Just think of Sri Swamiji as your brother and everything will be fine.” I was sitting on the floor in front of Him and I grabbed His knees and cried, “Swamiji I will never leave you.”
Jaya Guru Datta. I live in, and have the good fortune of being the manager of the Datta Retreat Center, West Sunbury, Pennsylvania. This is Sri Swamiji’s Ashram in the United States of America and I have been here for some years now. I met Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji in 1980 in Pittsburgh at which time I was a spiritual seeker. I had been meeting different gurus and yogis, but I wasn’t having good experiences with them. I suppose it was just that they were not my Guru. Just at the time when I decided to give up the quest of finding a guru, Sri Swamiji came to Pittsburg, accompanied by John Ramana Laird and Gene Silverblatt.
Just before coming, Gene, whom I did not know, called me at my place of work and said that he wanted to bring Sri Swamiji to Pittsburgh. He informed me that this Yogi was from India and that he wanted to introduce Him to small groups of people, but he didn’t know the ‘City of Pittsburgh’. One program was already scheduled that week at the Unity Church where I stayed as the caretaker and was also leading study groups in a set of books called ‘A Course in Miracles’. Quickly it was decided that He would come to meet those students, on the day of His slated arrival in Pittsburgh.
So here I was, I didn’t even really have an open heart to meeting this person, because I didn’t want another experience that felt hurtful. Anyhow, I called a number of people and informed them about His coming. We didn’t make any special preparations as we didn’t know what we should do, but when He walked through the door, He really walked into my heart. Later, I could say it felt like ‘Baby Krishna’. I felt some kind of joy such as I had never experienced in my life; like that of a young and holy child, it was so pure.
During that meeting Sri Swamiji did not speak very much. He said a few words in Kannada and then Ramana would expound on them. If I had a question I would try to put my hand up like a school-child and ask, but before I could do that I would get the answer. Sri Swamiji was telepathically communicating with me and then at the same time I would get all this laughter in my heart!
I didn’t know what was going on and I wanted to find out more, so I ran out of the room to see Sri Swamiji in the parking lot before He left. There were three of us there and Sri Swamiji reached down on the ground, grabbed some stones and we could actually see ‘Datta Yantra coins’ sprouting out of those stones. He gave one to each of us and said, “This is enlightenment.” One person became very fearful and he couldn’t accept it so he gave it back and we all saw it merging back into the stone.
After this program Sri Swamiji went to the West Coast for a week and then He was coming back to Boston. I got time off work and went to Boston to meet and spend a few days with Him at the home of Ammani Desai. During that trip He actually traveled alone and when He got off the plane, He had this tiny bag that He used to carry all the precious things in and we greeted Him at the airport like that.
I had such a strong impression of Sri Swamiji and horses. Once I asked Him if He liked horses and He said, “Yes!” When I was younger I had a horse, and later, after meeting Him, I heard the story about when Sri Swamiji was a young man, a white horse would come to Him every day and take Him for a ride. During my first visit to the Mysore Ashram there was a picture hanging in the dining hall, of Sri Swamiji on this beautiful white horse. That vision affected me deeply, and made me think of the Kalki Avathara. Later, I got a small copy of that photo and it still hangs in my home.
My first trip to India, in 1981, was very remarkable. Firstly, Sri Swamiji had invited me to come to India and for some reason I couldn’t arrange it. Then Sant Kesavadas arranged a tour to India at a cost of three thousand dollars, which I didn’t have, but miraculously received. When I arrived in India, driving through Bombay, in the middle of the night, I had the most intense feeling of “coming home”. When I got to Bangalore, I found out that Sri Swamiji was there! I took a friend and had my first mad auto rickshaw ride across the city in heavy traffic; the rickshaw had lost its brakes, but that was no problem, the driver still had a horn.
Upon seeing Sri Swamiji again, I cried and cried throughout the whole program. He called me and spoke to me and I told Him about the planned tour around India, and that I would rather stay with Him instead. He insisted that I must take the tour; it was a magnificent and enlightening experience. I had the opportunity to visit ashrama, including those of Sri Ramana Maharishi and Paramahamsa Ramakrishna. I even had darshan of Mother Theresa and many other saints. I went to Lord Krishna’s birthplace, the Himalayas and visited famous places and temples throughout India. For a westerner, without His grace this could not have happened.
After the tour I left the group and was ready to leave for Mysore. It so happened that the city was on strike, the situation was dangerous and I couldn’t get transport to leave Bangalore. However, Sri Swamiji works in mysterious ways for His devotees. By late afternoon I ventured to the train station with the hope of getting a ticket and joined the line. Everything was written in Kannada and I couldn’t converse with anyone. Trying to get someone’s attention, I was asking anyone for help. Then, from somewhere in the line a man asked me where I was going to, in English. What a relief!
I told that man that I was going to Sri Ganapati Ashrama in Mysore and he volunteered to help, because he said that Sri Swamiji was his Guru also. He made all the necessary arrangements and we left for Mysore. When we got to Mysore City, those people took me to their house, took care of me and later they took me to the Ashrama. When we got there Sri Swamiji came out and greeted me as a prodigal daughter saying, “Oh I sent him to find you. How did you find him?”
I stayed there for one week and it was the most amazing time that I had ever spent in my life. Even though no one spoke English, I was able to help Gayatri in the printing press, learned some bhajans from Veda boys, such as Ganesh Avadhani and others, who were children at the time, and taught western spiritual songs to them. The best moments were when I was sweeping around the courtyard and I would hear Sri Swamiji literally singing to me from His room. Before I left for Bangalore where the group was still staying, He materialized a Siva saligrama and gave it to me. As it turned out some members of the group had to stay for another week and I could also change my ticket, so I returned to Mysore.
During the second week in the Ashrama, Sri Swamiji invited me to come along with the group to a program in Bangalore. On the way back I had the opportunity to travel in Sri Swamiji’s car. It was late at night and raining, but somewhere along the route we stopped at a roadside emporium. Sri Swamiji said to me, “I want to get you a gift, choose whatever you want.” I chose a small Ganapati Murti, which till today I keep in my prayer room.
Early one morning I heard a knock on the door and when I opened it I saw a little Veda boy standing outside saying that Sri Swamiji had sent him. He had some objects in his hand including a little white stone idol of Sri Krishna which he gave to me. Later Sri Swamiji told me what they all represented: Krishna was my meditation Guru; a picture of Ganesh for my life Guru; and a little Lakshmi Narasimha was for my married life. Then later, one day when the spicy foods were affecting me too much; I was literally thinking about and longing for plain chapattis and fruit. As I sat helping Ajji and the other ladies clean vegetables for the evening meal, a boy came to me and said that Sri Swamiji had sent me a plate of plain chapattis and fruit!
Then, when I got back to Pittsburgh I had to find a job right away. Eventually I got a good paying job and traveled to many states testing underground tanks. Everywhere I lived I would try to find a house where I could invite Sri Swamiji on His future trips. In 1984, the Holiday Inn Hotel chain instituted the first awards program for stays at their premises. Because of this job I stayed only at Holiday Inns and I received points for two tickets to India. With these two tickets, my friend, Susan Susheela Williams, and I arrived in Mysore for the 1984 Shivaratri program.
During this period I had profound spiritual blessings from Sri Swamiji. One morning I awoke very early with the strong compelling thought that I must confess to Him. That morning I went in the interview line and when my turn came I just told Him everything that I was ashamed of in my life. I was taking so much of His time but an inner force made me go on baring my soul to Him and finally He said, “ It’s okay, don’t worry. Just think of Sri Swamiji as your brother and everything will be fine.” I was sitting on the floor in front of Him and I grabbed His knees and cried, “Sri Swamiji I will never leave you.”
After that interview, I went on crying for the whole day. Just prior to this I had bought two pictures from the bookstall: one of Sri Swamiji sitting as a yogi in a perfect posture and the other of Him much younger with bushy hair and without a beard. I placed garlands on both pictures and that day the flowers on the yogi withered, but those on the other picture just stayed fresh. That indicated to me that Sri Swamiji, the yogi, knew that I identified with Him and He was taking this karma and suffering for me.
On Sunday I went to participate in the homa. I used to be almost crazy in His presence because I knew that He could read my mind. I had some doubts and I was so afraid that He would catch every thought out of my head. I was in such a state of tension. (Eventually I came to understand that Sri Swamiji’s energy brings these impurities out in us. Whatever is going on within us seems to multiply and become enormous until it is resolved.) At the homa that day I was just praying that He would take this mental imbalance away.
When the Poornahurti was offered to the fire I felt as though a big weight was lifted from me and I just couldn’t believe it. I felt like a different person. I wondered if anybody else had seen my predicament, so I decided I wouldn’t talk to anybody all day: I would just wait and see what other people were observing. After this episode, all day long Sri Swamiji seemed to show up everywhere that I was. Finally, after the evening prayers and dinner, Sri Swamiji was standing outside, near the small temples speaking to someone. I took my opportunity, went to Him and explained what had happened; my experience at the homa. He said, “Yes Sri Swamiji took ninety percent and the other ten percent is for you to work on.” That ten percent has been enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life. It was such an enormous act of grace from my Guru, Sri Swamiji.
Before leaving the Ashrama, I invited Sri Swamiji to come to America and He accepted. I asked Him to come to my house, but I didn’t have a house! I was actually staying with my parents for a couple of weeks. There was only a period of three months before Sri Swamiji’s arrived, so I had to find a house, buy it and get it ready, but I was really never there; I was always out on the road working. I didn’t have much money so I bought an older house that needed a lot of repairs. I also had to organize some programs for Sri Swamiji. Anyhow some friends and my elderly parents came and we pulled it all together.
One day before He was due to arrive, I remembered my mother and I running through a department store with shopping carts tossing in everything I could think of which might be needed to host Him. An observer might have thought I had won a shopping spree with so many minutes to fill up the buggy. When He was coming from St Louis, He missed His flight, so I had an extra day to get ready. This was a very interesting experience. Some of my friends gave up on the project, probably because I was so difficult to deal with, being in frenzy under such pressure about everything.
Anyhow, when we were all at the airport together, Sri Swamiji said, “Padma, where are we going?” Susan said, “We are going to Padma’s house.” I saw Sri Swamiji looking at me with compassion in His eyes’ twice He said pointedly, “Not Padma’s house, my house! We have won!” It was a great lesson for me in having faith to go through the experience and reach the goal, no matter what. Not only do we win by reaching the goal. We also win by demonstrating His power when we hold steadfastly to Him, the power of His Grace! And there it was, my house became His house! How can I explain what that meant to me?
Eventually, our little group got Sri Swamiji’s permission to start an organization in the USA. Susheela and I had heard about a course, which was being held in downtown Pittsburgh, where people could learn everything they had to know about how to incorporate and become a non-profit organization without hiring a lawyer. We took this course and met with Mr. Channarasappa from the Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh. He advised us every step of the way and we got the paper work done and started the Datta Yoga Center.
In 1986 the Datta Yoga Center, USA was inaugurated. We had the official permission from the government and we had all the forms signed. In the backyard of the little house in Fredericktown, Pennsylvania, we held the inauguration ceremony and Sri Swamiji talked about the need for a temple for protection for the United States. He mostly talked about the difficult times ahead, after 2000.
He stressed the need to find a suitable place as soon as possible. At our Kriya Yoga event at the ‘Center for the Light’ in Massachusetts, He outlined in detail His vision for a Center. We didn’t know what to do, really. How were we going to find a place to start if He wasn’t going to be here to see it? There was a six acre parcel of land that has been in my family for some time, but it was so remote, about a two hours’ drive from the Pittsburgh Airport, depending on traffic and weather conditions. Also there was no big population center close by and it just didn’t seem like the ideal situation, but it was something.
I took a map and very hesitantly showed Him the location of the property. He seemed keenly interested and what happened next was the greatest miracle. He was supposed to have a program in Spain and somehow He cancelled it and came back to Pennsylvania with us. So we had a week with Him without any scheduled programs. We stayed in Susan’s parents’ mountain house, out in the Laurel Highlands and we were just casually enjoying the time with Sri Swamiji. Then He asked to go to Jamestown, New York to see Joe and Patty Panebianco.
On that road trip, along the way, we went to look at that property, it was sheer wilderness. The land was completely covered with trees and shrubs; there was not even a path to enter. I actually bought tennis shoes for Him, He didn’t want to wear them, but then in the end He did. A little distance down the hill the trees were bigger and within them Sri Swamiji found some huge rocks. He indicated to us that this is where we would build the temple, as these rocks had been calling out to Him. He identified the rocks as the Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma rocks, Datta rocks in fact.
He then indicated to us exactly what we should do and how we should take care of them. He stressed that they are precious rocks; they are really living souls and they are ancient spiritual healing rocks. It was a very deep experience, but we really didn’t understand very much. We were just so thrilled that Sri Swamiji would find this to be such a wonderful place and that we could begin the Center here. Actually, when I went with Him to Trinidad in 1981, I even mentioned this land to Him asking if I should sell it. He was starting to say “Yes! Why not? But then He said, “Oh no, no! There is some plan, I think.” Today this Ashrama consists of nineteen acres, much of which was donated by devotees later.
Sri Lakshminarayana, one of those devotees who donated land here, was skeptical about the location and literally fought with Sri Swamiji over it. Sri Swamiji told him to go and experience the rocks. When he came and touched the rocks he got something like an electric shock and after that he approved of the location. Later, when he had some serious job problems he made a pilgrimage here and everything was handled just by praying at the rocks. Many other people came and had their problems solved by these rocks.
In those first two years, some of us came out and stayed in tents, made some attempts to tame the land, and plant roses. We even got together, built a little shed which eventually housed a tiny kitchen and became officially known as “Sri Datta’s Hotel”. We got electricity installed to a pole with four outlets, in the middle of the woods. As years passed, with each new building, we would plug it into one of the outlets! None of us had good paying jobs and for everything we had to do a lot of fund raising. At that time we purchased a used mobile home and it served as an all-purpose building. We had to get a septic system installed and water well drilled; we were just like pioneers!
In 1988, Sri Swamiji came and stayed for about two weeks. In preparation, we cut down some trees and put up a big blue tarp tent which became almost permanent for several years; we called it the “Ganapathy Big Top.” We had black plastic wrapped around poles for shower stalls in the middle of the woods with an electric water heater sitting there – get your bucket of hot water and go bathe! There were strings of lights through the trees of the forest and blue plastic drums for drinking water. All the volunteers were sleeping in small camping tents. In spite of the primitive nature of things, we had many programs and guests were housed at the Slippery Rock University nearby. There were Kriya Yoga courses, puja, discourses, even a small concert and a wedding! The main event however, was unplanned. Josh and Carol Capy had carried with them two murti from India – Datta and Anagha. They together with Josh’s sister Bethann Ortiz donated the murti to Sri Swamiji. Afterwards He then had an altar built at the Siva Rock and installed the deities, as well as having the Datta Yantra engraved and painted on the huge Vishnu Rock. The temple began, without having a building to enclose it.
In May of 1990, Sri Swamiji was expected in for the inauguration of the temple, but the construction was far from being completed. Carol and I rented a truck to go out to eastern Pennsylvania and pick up the pavers for the floor and a blizzard came up. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike we were involved in an accident with about seven vehicles when our truck skidded and swerved on the ice. Although no one was seriously hurt, it was serious for us, because the truck was rented under the Datta Yoga Center. The Yoga Center was now in jeopardy if there were any lawsuits against us.
When Sri Swamiji came for the inauguration, we had the floor stones temporary installed. During the inauguration we had the Nadaswara music played on a boom box and Swami Manasa Datta had a steel plate on which he was beating the percussion, as Sri Swamiji proceeded to the temple top. After the inauguration Sri Swamiji called us all together and said that we could not move forward with anything else now as we were stuck until all lawsuits were finished. He was really disappointed that we had created this problem for His ashram.
When the lawsuit came up, Carol and I were scheduled to go to the court in the Laurel Highlands. Many devotees gave lots of advice about how to prepare for this. We wore our Datta Rakshas, bracelets and beads. Everything that was Sri Swamiji’s that we could think of, we had on our bodies. We got to the court steps, turned around three times, did Datta Stavam and when we got into the court room everybody was wearing long faces. The judge was very tough and everybody seemed to be losing their cases. Then we learned that the lady judge who used to preside in that court had passed away and the new judge was from out of town. Our case was called and we went into the court room. The judge read our information and said, “Oh! So you are from West Sunbury; that area is actually my jurisdiction area. I am just here temporarily, but I grew up in West Sunbury; my family owned a grocery store in the town. You know Thomson’s market?” Carol said, “Oh yes! I buy all my peaches for canning there.” After some negotiations, a ‘not guilty’ verdict was returned in our favor. We continued our construction phase and everyone was full of life!
In 1993, Sri Swamiji started His Nada Prasara tour of the USA and the Caribbean. Right from the beginning He called me and said, “I have some good news and some bad news for you. First, the bad news: I am going to close the Datta Yoga Center in Pennsylvania and you have to tell the people there. Second, the good news: Sri Swamiji is taking you back to India for awhile.” The good news helped me to accept the situation and absorb the information given. Then He said “if Swamji tells you to jump off of a bridge you have to jump”, because He knew how tough it was going to be for me to give this news to everyone.
Later, during the Pittsburgh phase of the tour, Sri Swamiji arrived at the Center and immediately said that He wanted to rest. He went into His accommodations and Eshwari and I went down to the temple. Within a short time Sri Swamiji came into the Temple and said, “I cannot close this Temple. Bala Datta says I cannot close this Temple.” People became excited and they were all coming towards the Temple and everyone started crying.
Then He said, “I have a plan, I want sixteen people who will pledge fifty dollars a month for the rest of their lives for the maintenance for this Center. I will name each one for sixteen manifestations of Datta. You will be permanent members of this Center.” After this I went to India and stayed there for five years. I was quite convinced I was not coming back to Datta Retreat Center, because He told me, when you come back you can start some other center, maybe in southern California. However, in 1998, before my return to America, he called a DYC USA meeting in Mysore, where many devotees had gathered for the inauguration of Nada Mantapam. At that time, He established that I should serve as manager of Datta Retreat Center and all the details were worked out.
When I stayed in India and went on the Andhra tours, Sri Swamiji would speak only in the local language, but this did not affect me as I was more interested in receiving the vibrations from those discourses. Even the Bhajans, even though I didn’t understand their meanings, I still love listening to them and singing them. Once, we were sitting in the crowd and Sri Swamiji was doing all His discourses in Telugu. Intellectually, we didn’t understand what He was saying, but He was telling this wonderful, funny story. I just started laughing heartily and Sri Swamiji stopped speaking and looked across at me. Although He was speaking in Telugu, He knew that I really got the whole story completely.
One of the most important moments I had in my life was in 1991 when Sri Swamiji called me in London and candidly told me that we have been together in all of the life times and if I become lost He searches the universes to find me. That’s the real miracle in this life. Sri Swamiji found me. I was a coal miner’s daughter from western Pennsylvania, without any experience of such things. He found me, He loves me, and He guides and protects me. He has given me a life time of living within His ring of protection, allowing me to serve Him in some small way.
Whatever struggles I have suffered, I know it is all my karma and He is helping me to bear them with His safety and protection around me. How can I have this relationship with this God-Man, whom we know in this form, as Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji, who comes from India to be with us in these woods? He has stayed with us regardless of how little or how much we have done in our lives. Whether we are good or bad, He comes. He is with me, He is inside and He is outside. Continuously, He has been there with me through all the years. How is it possible? I cannot even comprehend. I can only humbly accept! Sri Guru Datta