Nayaswami Tushti: Tears of Joy

by Brahmacharini Prisha

 

Your duty doneimage1

You have gone,

To your Father’s place flown,

A votary now in His temple infinite.

You are gone ahead

To welcome us there

Where all must meet

And end our separation’s tear.

– Paramhansa Yogananda, from “To the Memory of My Sister, Roma Sasi,” on her passing
 

Memories of Tushtiji continue to warm our hearts amid the sorrow of separation still poignant a month after her departure. Her outstretched arm and ready ear indelibly touched Retreat guests and gurubhais alike. She was a key to the Retreat’s success in the 3 years she lived in Pune.  The extraordinary outpouring of love and appreciation for Tushti at many astral ascensions worldwide — 8 at last count, including ours! — show the special place she held in many hearts.

The way she faced her difficult final months will long serve as an inspiring example for Retreat guests and others focussing on their own eventual leavetaking. Indeed, Nayaswami Debarshi drew on her example in his recent retreat “Death: the Final Exam”.

Tushti’s bond with Pune

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Tushti had a strong connection with both the land and town communities. As her husband Surendra reflected after her passing:

“Tushti was deeply committed to bringing souls to God through our teachings, especially through yoga and meditation. She wanted to see Ananda Pune grow not only in numbers but also in depth of devotion, both in the city and at the Retreat. Whatever she could do to make this happen, that’s what she was all about.

“Her seva was always whatever needed doing, from sweeping floors to offering the Touch of Light.”

 

Grace and radiance

Two comments about Tushti often arise from both Retreat guests and community members: “she was so loving” and “no one taught yoga so beautifully”. Childhood ballet classes explain some of her grace, but only partially, for true grace flows from within.

Grace also marked how Tushti lived her final months. Of all cancers, pancreatic is one of the sneakiest and meanest, typically not discovered until quite late as in Tushti’s case. With the eventual diagnosis came chemotherapy and hair loss, yet she soldiered on cheerfully. “How,” we wondered, “can she look so radiant?”

Initial affirmations

Aimage3lthough Tushti knew she had cancer, she didn’t want to know the details. She wanted to affirm recovery, doubtlessly to continue serving. Yet as her already slender body diminished, and plans were made to take her back to the USA for treatment, her years as a nurse must have given her clarity.

At Ananda Pune’s goodbye satsang for Tushti last November, many expressed gratitude, love, and hope for a speedy recovery and return as she sat quietly at the altar, her little turban emphasising the gauntness of her sweet face. I remember thinking, “This looks like an astral ascension, except Tushti’s here.” It would, of course, be a preview.

 

Gradual surrender

A few months later, on my own brief return to the USA, I visited Tushti in Laurelwood. Although her health had declined further, her face was image4radiant as ever. It brightened still more as she read greetings I’d brought from our community.

I asked, “Could you share a little of the wisdom you’ve come to in all these challenges?”. Without hesitation she said: “I think the most important word in our teachings is ‘surrender.’ It shows us who’s in charge. And it’s not us.”

Surrender was characteristic of Tushti and Surendra’s life in Ananda. It was in this spirit that they unhesitatingly agreed to come to India after only a few days of the retirement they’d been looking forward to. In their 60s, they happily headed off to a new country and leadership roles.

And in this same spirit, Tushti came to understand that Master had a different plan than the recovery she was affirming. Even after she stopped treatment, though, she lingered weeks beyond medical expectations. After all, she was strong both as a yoga practitioner and a runner — with plenty of practice on the hills at the Retreat!. But Nayaswami Asha, who was with Tushti toward the end, believes it was for her to work out any remaining karma. Asha and others have beautifully described those last weeks in a series of letters.

 

Symbolism of Tushti’s departure date

When word came of Tushti’s passing on 21 March, I was struck by the symbolism. It was the spring equinox! In Laurelwood, as in much of the USA, buds would haveimage1 been peeking out as winter ended, always a time of joy. It was also a few days before Easter, the celebration of Christ’s victory over death. What perfect timing for one in whom joy was so notable. Even as she prepared to die, joy was what she asked of us: “Please, no tears … except tears of joy”.

Online memories

Joy indeed marked Tushti’s astral ascension celebrations. Several can be viewed online. If you watch, as I did, you’ll find new ways to celebrate her life, especially image5through insights from others.

  • Portland’s ceremony, led by Nayaswamis Daiva and Gangamata Glazzard, with testimonials, a tribute from Nayaswami Surendra, and some of Swamiji’s music (1 hr 50 min)

 

Dear Tushti, may your example of courageous surrender, your gentle but strong spirit, and your joy always guide us in Pune … your final assignment

Charlie – the Retreat Cat

by Brahmacharini Prisha

If you’ve come to the Retreat over the past year, you may have met me.

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I’m the one in the picture being fussed over and fed by some of the children recently. Mama Dog is getting some attention too, but that’s okay — she’s been here much longer.

When I first came to the Retreat, I was pretty scared of Mama.
After all, I was just a kitten and she was so much bigger!

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Here I am trying to avoid one of her early attempts to be friendly.

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But after keeping a close eye on her for awhile, I realised she was okay.

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Children and I generally enjoy each other …
as long as they don’t make fast moves or loud noise.

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Grown-ups often make over me too.
They seem to like to ruffle my fur and tickle my chin.

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I’ve noticed that adults often revert to childhood

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when they’re around me.

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Sometimes they even play Mom and Dad.

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Much of the day, I’m resting.

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Did you know that we kitties
sleep more than almost
any other animal?

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But afternoon tea is a special part of the day.

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Occasionally, I’m given a treat that I’m not supposed to have.
But usually I eat special kitty food. That’s why I have such a
soft, shiny coat of fur and stay in great health.

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It’s no stretch
of the imagination
to say that I look forward
to welcoming you
when you’re next
at the Retreat!

 

Teach for India Youth Retreat, 22-23 April 2016

by Namita Raghav

 

Recently the Retreat hosted an enthusiastic group of 18 youngsters and 8 teachers from Teach For India (TFI), an Indian NGO that is in turn part of a broad global education movement. The TFI retreat planners had 3 goals: Connect with nature and one another, Learn from nature and one another, and Celebrate the connections and lessons.

image1The retreat opened Friday evening with a brief opening circle. Initial fear of being in a forest-like environment without their parents could easily be sensed in the eyes of the children, but when they returned home Saturday evening, their eyes glowed with the joy of being in, and one with, nature.

At about 7:20 Saturday morning, we embarked on a silent walk in which we observed plants around us in a way we probably never did before, listened to different sounds from birds — some far away, some near — made our way uphill through small pebbles; felt the loving warmth of sun rays on our face; and blissfully sensed that we had all the time in the world just to relax and connect with the goodness of nature and each other.

After releasing the hidden tension from the body by energising every part and focussing the wandering mind by meditation, we were all geared up for our first nature game, ‘Camera’, followed by another inspiring activity called “I Am The Mountain”. These are part of the acclaimed environmental educational programme known as Sharing Nature . They not only brought us closer to Mother Nature but also strengthened our bond of trust and friendship. The children’s reflections following these activities showed they had been deeply touched by their experiences. It was mesmerising to hear their comments. One child, for instance, said: “I observed the mountain and felt that its ups and downs signify the joys and sorrows of our lives.”

image2Next came a student leadership session in the graceful gardens outside Swami Kriyananda’s house, listening to the sweet melody of the wind chimes and falling water in the fountain. Then came story-telling.

After lunch, we sang and acted out several of Swamiji’s children’s songs, such as ’Be Free Inside’, ‘Say Thank You’, and ‘Move, All You Mountains’. Then we played games to enhance team spirit and concentration, such as ‘Identify the Leader’ and ‘Bat and Moth’. At the end, our faces were brimming with smiles and laughter.

Concluding the retreat was a closing reflection fabulously guided by one of their teachers, in which children and teachers alike shared our learning and ‘Gratitude Notes’. In the soothing, inspiring beauty of nature all around, our souls had been rejuvenated and we had come to understand that we are never alone. As was perfectly put by the great naturalist John Muir—

“Happy is the man to whom every tree is a friend”.

Retreat Revelation – by Toshima Rana

In the Indian tradition, we have always observed that every spiritual organisation has an ashram away from humdrum city life. Around Pune we have the ashrams of Yogoda Satsanga Society and Chinmaya Mission, to name but a few in addition to our own. They all have centres in the city where people can come easily. What, then, is the need for these huge properties outside Pune? Why do we need to go these places when we have a centre next door that meets all our spiritual needs for satsang and group activity?

Surely our saints knew what they were doing when they started these places.blog april 26

In my last visit to our ashram near Watunde Village, I found that since no retreat was going on I had plenty of time to myself. During my 3-day visit, I slowly started becoming aware of my inner world – what I was thinking while walking, doing daily chores, and bathing. I was acutely aware of the constant mental churning going on inside me unconsciously. Away from city vibrations, it was as if I were seeing myself in a mirror. But how would all this help me?

Early one morning while doing my breathing exercises, my thoughts suddenly turned to an action of mine that I deeply regretted. I realised there was deep associated guilt and also fear as to how it would have an impact on my future life. Suddenly, out of the blue, came an inner realisation of what I was doing: I was regretting my mistakes, but out of the negative energy of guilt I was still repeating them. In that instant, my mind closed itself to the guilt. I knew what was important was TODAY. “Today I shall not repeat that habit. Yesterday and tomorrow I give to Guru.” My job was to concentrate only on today.

In that instant, the problem that had seemed to overwhelm me just evaporated. What had happened? I knew these teachings all along. What had changed? My Guru had found a way of reaching me in my self-created chaos. A window had been created for and by him.

We are all at different levels of evolution. Unless we reach that level where we can tap effortlessly into our Guru’s power, we need places where it’s easier to be receptive to his voice.

It’s good that we can attend retreats at our Retreat center where we can imbibe the teachings on a deeper level. But we also need to spend time there by ourselves: a few days at regular intervals meditating, serving, connecting to Guru. This will surely accelerate our spiritual growth and transform us.

Emerging Community : Part 1 by Toshima Rana

We arrived in the Ashram from the city on Saturday for weekend service. By the
time we arrived (late as usual) the groups had been divided and work had started.
No one seemed to need a extra hand so we decided to help in the kitchen. For a
long time we had been wanting to have a jackfruit curry but as Anant was on
leave it was too much work for Nanda. So now we decided to cut jackfruit for
dinner. I assumed, to my advantage, that serving dinner to devotees would also
come under Seva activities.

Well, we got Hari up the tree and got three big jackfruits down. We hunted the
kitchen for the biggest and strongest knives and started the cutting process. But
to our surprise we found that none of the ‘strongest‘ knives had a sharp edge. As
myself and Tutun struggled with the uncooperative jackfruit, the men nearby,
cleaning the kitchen floor, came in to lend a stronger hand. Now we were 5
people cutting the jackfruit. Two of us holding the table steady so that it would
not topple, two of us holding the jackfruit straight and one doing the actual
cutting. Without a sharp knife it was hard work but we did not seem to mind as
we joked and laughed our way through the job at hand.

That night, as I reflected on the day’s work, I realized that the jackfruit cutting
was so symbolic of that day’s activities. Last week one of the devotees had taken
strong exception to the attitude of another devotee who was obviously at fault.
But after having a heart to heart discussion with her that evening, she came to
me smiling, her previous anger gone, and she remarked that none of us were
perfect and we should not expect perfect behavior from others. She was learning
to be tolerant of people and their mistakes.

In another incident, a devotee had a very strong opinion about how to track
kitchen expenses. But her idea was not accepted. She fought hard about it for a
good half an hour. In the end, she let go without any disharmony. She was
learning to let go of her stand in the interest of group harmony.

Previous night I had worked late into night and had slept very late. I was woken at
5 am by my mobile ringing as Tutun was calling to share a wonderful dream. The
very next night I had a nightmare and I woke her up at 4 a.m. Tutun had a very
tiring day and had been wanting to sleep late. We both were learning to
accommodate each other’s needs over our own.

Lying there in the bed that night, I realized that we all were like the blunt knives
with which we had been trying to cut the jackfruit. We had our own areas that
needed to be worked upon, we knew nothing about running a Ashram and above
all we were learning beautifully to work as a harmonious group. We were Masters
blunt knives, but I know he shall use us successfully to accomplish the task at
hand. He was teaching us the basic rules of living in a community.

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The Joy of serving at the Ashram – by Toshima Rana

I’d had a terrible working week where I had been at crossroads with my boss. I felt I was wrongly accused by him for many things which we felt was not going right. I was angry in my heart, having constantly rebellious thoughts and was not sleeping well due to the mounting tension in office. I had committed to go to the Ashram in Watunda Village for Seva day on the weekend. When I got up on Saturday morning I felt absolutely drained. My eyes were red and were burning, my head felt heavy and in my heart I felt like crying. I had left my 8 year daughter in Delhi when I had come to Pune to work and this morning I missed here like never before. Since I had a long 3 and half hr drive ahead of me I thought maybe I should not go. Then the thought came that the Ashram needs energy and not going was just not a option. So I set out.

We were assigned the tasks of cleaning the Kutirs. Twice during the day, I felt dizzy and had to sit down to rest. However we completed the work at hand, had a good lunch with friends and got back to cleaning the remaining kutirs. In the evening while returning back we took a wrong turn and went off deep into the mountains. We realized we were on the wrong road but we kept going hoping to hit the main road soon. It was a beautiful drive and I felt enveloped by the peace and serenity of the mountains and the trees. We came across a bridge on a flowing river and on the far end, just above the mountains, the sun was settin . The sky was a crimson red and we got down to watch the beauty of this sunset in the quiet of this wilderness. While watching that sunset, suddenly I realized that I felt completely rejuvenated. My body felt light and the ache in my heart and mind was gone. I was surprised. After a long drive, a grilling schedule of cleaning and scrubbing, instead of feeling tired I was feeling energetic .

The strain of the complete week was gone and for the first time in that week, I felt at peace.

Jai Guru.

Paramhansa Yogananda Pilgrimage in India – By Kalamali

pilgrimage-india-deepening-spiritual-life-kalamaliI recently ended a spiritual pilgrimage to places written of in Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda. This pilgrimage was to physical places, yes, yet it reflected a pilgrimage happening deep within.

As we ventured to the Himalayas; the cave of Mahavatar Babaji; the seaside hermitage of Swami Sri Yukteswar, in Puri; the boyhood home of my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda; and Benares ashrams of great saints like Sri Anandamayi Ma and Trailanga Swami, the spiritual life deepened for me.

Before flying from America, I heard many times the words, “This pilgrimage will change your life.” With this in mind, I was looking forward to how this might manifest. I mulled over the question: What does “change your life” really mean? Would I have an experience? Some kind of profound inner realization? Or would I  notice the subtle, but lasting spiritual vibrations in my being?

Though I don’t have an explicit understanding of any one change, there are three ways that my spiritual life tangibly deepened:

1) Deeper Love for God and Guru.
As we made our pilgrimage, we read aloud the chapters in Autobiography of a Yogi which corresponded with the person or place we were going to visit. Of great inspiration to me were those places and chapters which symbolized the eternal bond of love between guru and disciple.* Love such as this, unfathomable though it is to the mind, permeated the soil of these holy places.

In Meditation, I attempted to open my heart and tune in to that love. Then, with all of the energy I could muster, offered myself to my guru.

*Vivid examples of this love occur in the chapter about Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya (Chapter: Materializing a Palace in the Himalayas), and again with Swami Sri Yukteswar and Paramhansa Yogananda (Chapter: I Meet My Master, Sri Yukteswar).

2) New-found faith born of experience. Inwardly, I wished to make real the saints and places in Autobiography of a Yogi. Meeting living relatives of Yogananda, visiting the shrine of Sri Yukteswar, where he consciously left the body, seeing the same eyes of Kali that Yogananda saw in Dakshineshwar, and feeling the devotion for India that he so poignantly describes in his poem, My India, did just that! No longer abstract, these now came alive.

I had always believed in these places, but now I had faith in them by direct experience. Our time spent meditating in these spots made time and space null. The presence of the masters was tangible as ever, and the love expressed by my guru’s living family through their stories, photos, and relics abounded, leaving no room for doubt.

3) Gratitude for My Spiritual Family

As a part of Ananda, I had never visited my Ananda family in India. Having concepts of my Indian gurubais, the work they were serving there, and the beauty of the Pune retreat; it was yet incomparable to actually being there. Greeted by Ananda devotees throughout our travels left us feeling at home everywhere we went.

I renewed long-lost friendships of lifetimes past and felt deep bonds–grounded in love for God– reawakened. The significance of this will last years into the future, as we continue to serve together all over the world, helpmates through all life’s sorrow and joy.

pilgrimage-yogananda-india-placesI am deeply grateful for this pilgrimage in India, and for all those who made the journey possible. It has changed my life, and the significance of this will continue to unravel for years to come.

 

Harmony with Nature – By Brahmacharini Prisha

how to have harmony with nature, how to find peace in nature, peace and harmony with nature, pune retreat peace and quiet

I’ve been given the happy opportunity to write a spiritual blog for the Retreat. And the request included such a delightful topic to begin with!

For guests often tell us that they feel a sense of peace, contentment, and upliftment on our land, surrounded as it is by lovely mountains and valleys. And that their stay has refreshed them so they’re readier to return to their everyday lives.

how to have harmony with nature, how to find peace in nature, peace and harmony with nature, pune retreat peace and quiet

They rarely use the term harmony with nature when they comment on what appeals to them at our Retreat. But, as one of Swami Kriyananda’s many song lines goes in another context — “the words we used were different, but joy one understands”.

Did you see the recently released film about Ananda, Finding Happiness? If so, you may have noticed several allusions to harmony in nature. Most of the film is shot at Ananda Village in mountainous northern California, which is now picturesquely beautiful. But some 40 years ago, it was just a hardscrabble farm.

how to have harmony with nature, how to find peace in nature, peace and harmony with nature, pune retreat peace and quiet

In the story line, a somewhat cynical journalist – Juliet — is sent on assignment from New York to do a story on the community. On her drive toward the Village, her Ananda guide David pulls to the side of the road to show her a spot alongside a rushing river. He tells her: “I love coming here after being in the city. It helps me connect with something much, much bigger than myself.” Just breaking out of our 4-walled daily existence literally opens up vistas. Or perhaps it simply reminds us that they’re there all the time if we’re awake.

David continues: “What really moves me is just the sounds all around us. It’s like a symphony of nature.” His comment is all the more profound because in real life, David is a professional musician! If you’ve ever heard a symphony, you can appreciate his word picture comparing the sounds of nature to the symphony’s amazing blend of many instruments of different types to make a single vibrant musical production.

Again in the film, harmony with nature comes up. During Juliet’s introduction to Ananda’s leaders Jyotish and Devi, she remarks on the beauty of the Village. Jyotish ties this in with the “special energy” that many visitors feel there … shared, he believes, by the wild animals. prish 6

Here Devi offers a further fascinating insight: “We’ve lived here for so many years and there’s been so much conscious harmony with nature that I think the land really has become sacred.” To which Juliet finds herself agreeing only one day into her visit, “Yeah, it feels that way here”.

Having lived both at Ananda Village and on our land here in the Pune countryside, I can echo Juliet half a world away: “It feels that way here too” — although much of our land is still somewhat primitive.

But so much has been accomplished in the short time the land has been ours. The Retreat is a chief example. It’s a small haven of joy where – whether for a day, a weekend, or long-term – a unique experience of harmony with nature awaits. And you know what: that can carry over to harmony in all other aspects of life!

 

 

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