Anthony Alphonse, Trinidad
I was surprised as to how He knew my inner feelings, because outwardly I thought that I had masked any form of disappointment. He then told me that I was very close to Him and that was what counted.
In my early years I had very much taken to Eastern Mysticism, especially that of the Indian sub-continent. The turmoil in my mind resonated with thoughts and questions that I could not share with many of my friends. Was it possible for anyone to experience the pure divine Self? Is it the preserve of only the hoary ascetics? Were there even today knowers of the Atman, accessible to the ordinary seekers, and willing to provide compassionate guidance? Where to look? How to proceed? The visions of India conjured in my young mind by the writings of spirituals giants such as Swami Vivekananda and Swami Yogananda beckoned with an irresistible force. So in 1975 I told my friend, David (Mukunda) Balroop, that I was making a journey to India. Although being a non-Hindu and non-Indian, I thought that if the teachings of the sages were truly universal and all-embracing then barriers such as language, culture and race would not prove insurmountable.
In 1975, I quit my job and set out alone on a journey that was to have a profound and life-altering effect on me. At about that time the fame of Sri Sathya Sai Baba had reached Trinidad, and everyone was agog with accounts of his “miracles”. Although inwardly averse to ostentation and flamboyant display I thought that Puttaparthi might be a good place to begin my search. My intention was to spend about four days there, but hindered by destiny I remained there for a few months. During this time I met and married my wife. However, in Puttaparthi, a friend from England told me about a saint he had met in Mysore and suggested I make the time to visit him there. This saint was known as Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji.
I traveled through South India with my wife and her parents visiting relatives, returning to Bangalore in the middle of 1976. We then traveled to Mysore to visit the Ashrama of Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji. We spent about two days there and we had a very cordial and amicable reception by the Swami and His followers. However, at that time the Ashrama management was busy preparing for Sri Swamiji’s first trip to the United States of America. I was advised that if I were to extend an invitation to Him to visit Trinidad, He would probably accept.
At the spur of the moment, I went and made the invitation to His Holiness and, as had been suggested, He accepted without hesitation. He said “yes, you make the arrangements and I will come”.
My impulsive invitation was not well thought out. I had been in India for almost a year and all my savings were depleted. In the first place, I had quit my job to go to India, and with the added responsibility of being a married man, I now had the duty of taking care of a wife. Having to make all the arrangements for the Swami’s visit, with no resources, and further more still being in India, I was caught on the horns of a dilemma. Throwing caution to the wind, I returned to Trinidad leaving my wife with her family who were looking after procuring her passport and travel documents.
On my return, I approached Mr. Roderick Noel, a senior attorney whom I had first met in Puttaparthi, and a friend, Mr. Michael James, with the proposal. Mr. James in turn introduced me to his long-time friend Dr Dianand Chandool who pledged his full support. We were supposed to provide visas, return tickets and accommodations for Sri Swamiji and His entourage of five from New York to Trinidad. It has to be said that without these people the whole venture would have fizzled.
Mr. Noel provided most of the money for the trip, and Dr Chandool offered to host the guests at his spacious home in Valsayn. Everything came together at the last minute and Sri Swamiji’s first visit to Trinidad was a great success. The small but appreciative group that attended these early sat-sanghas was enthralled by His style of bhajans and His lectures in what He called His “child’s English”. After this, a core group comprising of Mr. Roderick Noel (Swamiji called him Gurusarkar), Dr. Dianand Chandool (Dhyanand), Mr. Michael James (Gurudass), Mr. David Balroop (Mukunda) and his wife, Mr. Krishna Persad of Arima and I (Guruprasad) became very involved in Sri Swamiji’s mission and managed all local activities and planned all His subsequent trips to Trinidad until 1984.
After 1984 I withdrew from the organization for personal reasons. I had been searching for a guru and had harbored a wish to receive formal Diksha, or initiation into personal sadhana, from Sri Swamiji. During those early years with Him I felt that He was very accessible, and I observed how He dealt personably with people. I spoke with Him several times about initiation, but the formal initiation did not take place. This eventually gave rise to some doubts. During my last visit to the Mysore Ashram in 1984 (Sri Swamiji visited Trinidad in 1984 and I followed him back to India about a month later) there were some incidents that were personally un-settling for me. When I raised these during a private interview with Sri Swamiji He told me that I should either have 100% faith in Him or make a clean break. Confused and disappointed with the outcome of the discussion, I decided on the latter course of action. Since then I slowly came to realize that Sri Swamiji knew that He was not to be my guru, and was kindly guiding me to continue my search for the guru that my heart desired.
However, there are some interactions with Sri Swamiji that I would always remember and cherish. He could show unexpected kindness to people, and at times exuded warmth that could make your troubles seems insignificant. A notable incident occurred when my in-laws were going through some difficult times. I had written to them from Trinidad asking them to go visit Sri Swamiji confident that He would offer them relief of some sort. When they arrived at the Mysore Ashram Sri Swamiji was mediating a rather loud argument between two of His devotees. They waited for a while but eventually had to return to their place without being able to speak with Him. They did not have a good experience and naturally my wife and I felt badly about it. On the occasion of Sri Swamiji’s next visit to Trinidad, referring to the incident He offered His regrets saying that the time my in-laws had chosen to visit Him was astrologically inauspicious. My wife and I were not expecting any kind of apology from Him but we felt comforted by His words and the hurt feelings disappeared.
In 1984, during the Swami’s visit here, I organized the first Kriya Yoga course in Trinidad. During those years your course work would be graded, and at the end Sri Swamiji would comment on students’ readiness for spiritual progress. As I had scored the highest grade, I was feeling elated and sure that my prospects were good. However, in His comments Sri Swamiji said that I had a lot of work to do to progress spiritually, and that it would take a lot of effort. Students who had scored lower than me were treated with more favorable comments. It did not take long for my bubble to burst.
Later that day when Sri Swamiji was preparing to have His bath He sent for me and during the conversation He told me that I shouldn’t be feeling badly. I was surprised as to how He knew my inner feelings, because outwardly I thought that I had masked any form of disappointment. He then told me that I was very close to Him and that was what counted. Needless to say, I came away from that encounter feeling immensely comforted.
A great yogi once said, “Men meet as in a mart, and then, when their trading is done, they part.” The trading means, of course, the working of karma. For a while Sri Swamiji and I interacted; I was able to offer some small service to Him and He in turn blessed me. I have learned much from the encounter. Today, whenever I visit the Dattatreya Yoga Center with its magnificent, towering Hanuman murti, I feel pleased and humbled to have had some small part in bringing it about. Jaya Guru Datta!