[Vignettes with My Guru: Swami Chinmayanandaji]
The year was 1984. I was traveling with Pujya Swamiji in Bangalore. Vilasiniji had just entrusted me with the job of video taping Swamiji’s lectures, before she returned to America. On Swamiji’s instructions, I found myself in Bangalore, amidst a crowd of almost ten thousand people, with my set up of camera and tape in the middle of the yagnashala for the evening Bhagavad Gita series.
During that time, we had a wonderful program at the Deenabandhu temple, for Swamiji’s birthday celebration, which I video taped. That week I was not alone in my life as a videographer. My sister, Neeru Mehta of Ahmedabad, and friends, Asha Kamdar of Mumbai and Mala Daswani of Hong Kong came for a couple of days for this occasion.
They all are ardent and close devotees of Swamiji.
I was staying with the family who was hosting Swamiji. Our hosts had been kind enough to let us use their old car, so we designated Asha as the driver. As the yagna was coming to an end, we all were scheduled to return to Mumbai. Swamiji was leaving a day earlier than us. Since Swamiji was not going to be there, we persuaded Swamiji to allow us to stay overnight at a hotel. The point of this entire explanation is that after His approval, the four of us wanted a chance to check out the hotel. We were debating how we could do this, when nature or perhaps Swamiji, gave us a comical opportunity.
After the morning Upanishad class, I was hurrying to pack up the video equipment, as we had to follow Swamiji’s car to the morning breakfast bhiksha. No amount of speed could bring us any luck and by the time we got into our car, Swamiji had zoomed off! We tried to conjure up a possible route hoping to catch up with His car, but we failed miserably. We were now lost! With help from people on the street, we attempted to make our way back home and await Swamiji’s arrival. We had missed breakfast this morning so all of us were starving. We were almost home when someone in the group suddenly had a brain wave!
Asha swung the car around and there we were, four Vedantins making our way to the hotel with a lot of help from the local citizens of Bangalore.
We finally relaxed in the plush atmosphere of the hotel and enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast. It is important here to mention what each of us ate.
Neeru ordered idlis. Mala had a croissant. Asha said she was in the mood to consume scrambled eggs and I succumbed to the temptation to try and eat eggs. Generally, I never eat eggs. I am vegetarian, and while eggs in a cake are my eggy limit- I was in the mood to try eggs after a gap of many years. I have no idea what came over me! I placed the same order as Asha. A nagging feeling gnawed at me. Perhaps I should not eat this. I knew how Swamiji felt about eggs! I let the nagging feeling slide. I ate and although I did not relish the taste that much…, the deed was done. In my mind, I thought that this would be just another experience of my ‘egg vasana’ purgation!!! Putting all these thoughts aside, I engaged in planning our stay at the hotel and we headed back to the house.
Swamiji was already home. He was sitting with a room full of people.
Now the drama began………
As my sister prostrated before Him, He asked, “Where were you all?” So, Neeru told Him that we lost our way and had decided to check out the hotel and have breakfast there!
“Oh!” He said.” What did you all eat?” Typically, He never asked us for such details, but He always knew everything inwardly and must have wanted to have fun with us. Asha and I exchanged glances.
Now we were right in the middle of it! Sure, we never knew what to expect from Swamiji, but we all knew that he took in every detail. Often, He used these opportunities to chip away at our ego, to teach us something, or to make us surrender our pride and arrogance. Every individual had his/her own unique relationship with Swamiji. One could relate to Him within the boundaries set up by Him, based on His inner awareness of our spiritual evolution. He always knew our personality traits, which needed attention – either in the form of encouragement or reform.
Every encounter with Him taught us something about our personality. It brought to surface what needed to be nurtured, applauded, or uprooted from the core. Through all of His various approaches with us; His gentle touch, His stern vibrating voice, He was ever compassionate and loving. If one wanted to learn and grow, what better way than to receive His grace and attention through even the smallest of exchanges with Him and by being in His presence!
As a testimony to my previous sentences, my sister Neeru, Mala, Asha and myself, each held our own special ‘leela’ of interaction with Swamiji. We all could joke with Him share immense laughter and be natural at times. On other occasions, when there were strangers or a lot of people around, we would be very reserved. Many times, we communicated through the powerful silence Swamiji emitted, in which He ‘said’ everything!
And so Neeru said with playful eyes, “Swamiji I had an idli”. Mala knelt before Him and with her warm smile said “croissant”. Asha and I had no illusions that we would speak the truth and live with the consequences. As we compared notes later-, we were in a state of ambiguity, of inner laughter and surrender to whatever was to come. Neeru and Mala of course looked at us with a gleeful, but pitying glance! As I bent forward to prostrate and ‘speak my truth’- the heavens came to our rescue. Or, was it just the local south Indian devotees? Someone from the crowd asked Swamiji a spiritual question and He swiveled His entire attention towards them! Asha and I prostrated in sequence and Swamiji just put His hand so lovingly on our back and patted us. We retreated to the far end of the room.
We had just avoided a hit at our ego in public!!!
Nevertheless- Swamiji’s inner work was done.
Still today, we remember this incident with great joy and whenever the four of us meet either collectively or in any combination – we break into peals of laughter talking about it.
Our guru egged us on, and He did it with a twinkle in His eye!
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