Photography & Yoga 5 The Guru's Grace

Photography and Yoga  ~ Part 5 ~
The Guru's Grace

Grace and the Guru  
There is nothing more mysterious, more powerful and life transforming than Grace, the Divine Energy or Shakti that is bestowed by a True Guru upon anyone who will receive it.  The ego, on the other hand, will fight to the death to remain in control of "its own" truth, it's own "life."   But it is Guru's Grace which transcends and purifies the ego and all of its limited boundaries; it is Guru's Grace which makes it possible for the student of yoga to reach the ultimate goal: to become like the True Guru, to merge with the pure Self, the Supreme Reality or Absolute.  

I have come to understand that, as a student of yoga, it is also Grace which gives direction, guidance and meaning to my creative process in photography.  To be "in-spired" as a artist means to have allowed one's self to be enveloped by Grace, and to have imbibed the Creator's spirit . . . God's breath . . . Guru's grace.  

I have for the most part worked intuitively as a photographer; that is to say, rather than try to dictate through intellectual concepts, I have tried to give free reign to my Creative Process, to allow it to do and go wherever It deemed necessary.  Like many other artists, for me, thinking in relation to my creative process can be more of a hinderance or an obstacle rather than a help.  My creative process seems to know what is necessary, and I try to give that priority, whatever it is.  This has required that I make an effort to keep my intellect and mind as subservient as much as possible to an unknown creative power that I know exists in my life.  It was only after I got into Siddha Yoga that I began to feel comfortable naming this "power."  In Siddha Yoga grace is not only essential, it is all there is.  And the source of grace, the True Guru, is equally a mystery.   

The very word "Guru" invokes in many people fear and cynicism.  It was a very difficult concept for me to understand and embrace when I first began studying yoga; and yet now I can only embrace the concept of grace in the context of the Guru, for it is the Guru who bestows grace, the the creative power of the Universe.  But the word "guru" --which means teacher---needs qualified for there are many teachers in the world, but there are only a very few True Gurus, or sadgurus.   It is the sadguru who is empowered to bestow grace. 

In this fifth part of my Yoga and Photography project I will attempt to define and clarify what I believe to be at the heart of my creative process, both as a student of yoga and an artist, which is Grace and the True Guru, through the teachings of Swami Chidvilasananda--Gurumayi, and her guru, and founder of the Siddha Yoga Path, Swami Muktananda.  I will also place those teachings within the context of my own experience as a student of yoga and photographs that have been inspired by grace.


In my previous chapter (4) I presented in detail my Shaktipat Initiation experience.  It was Gurumayi's grace that had opened my heart and set in motion the most important creative process there can ever be in one's life, and it is the goal of yoga: consciously realizing one's own Divine Self.  But there is a prelude to the shaktipat story, for I began having dramatic experiences--which I believe were the manifestations of shakti, the bestowal of grace--weeks before I went to the ashram, met Gurumayi, and took the intensive.  

Just after my wife Gloria and I had agreed to accept my sister-in-law's offer of the gift of an intensive with Gurumayi, I decided to learn as much as I could about Siddha Yoga by reading some of the literature.  I wanted to be at least minimally prepared for what I was about to experience at the ashram in South Fallsburg, NY when we arrived there in August, 1987.  

So I began to read Swami Muktananda's autobiography, The Play of Consciousness--a book that Gloria and I had kept unopened on our bookshelf for many years after Florence had given it to us as a Christmas gift.  As I got deeper into the book I started having mysterious experiences that I now feel certain were related to the shakti I had felt coming through Baba's words.  As I read his autobiography I could feel a living presence in his words and in his stories.  His writing is direct, powerful, unaffected; the words just seem to flow out of his being as if from an unstoppable stream of consciousness.  The experiences he described made the hairs on my arms stand up.  See my  Story #14 

Reading Baba's book made me contemplate my own life; I began to see that I too had encountered many mysterious experiences which I now would say were the workings of grace.  And it became quite clear to me that the number and frequency of experiences of grace escalated after I began reading Baba's book and then took that first intensive with Gurumayi.  

I have written about several of my experiences of grace and collected them in a project page entitled Personal Stories: Visionary Recitals, Encounters with the Sacred.   I have also just added two new stories to that collection which I've written specifically for inclusion in this Part 5 of my Photography and Yoga project.  (the two stories are presented below, at the bottom of this page)  

The yogic scriptures and the teachings of yogic saints or Meditation Masters tell us that everything is grace, everything is the Guru's creation, everything is the "play of Consciousness:"  There is nothing that is not Shiva!   But, what exactly is grace? and Who or What is the Guru?  The Siddha Yoga teachings are quite clear on this matter and Baba Muktananda and Gurumayi will define these mysteries in their own words and experiences below.

Just a brief summary regarding the Siddha Yoga Path: Baba Muktananda had received the grace bestowing power of the Siddha Lineage from his Guru, Baghawan Nityananda;  Nityananda had been born into this world as a fully realized being, or avadhuta.  Just before Baba Muktananda died, in 1982, he passed the grace bestowing power of the living shakti of the Siddha Lineage to his beloved disciple, Gurumayi, who had been with Baba as his student from when she was just a little girl.  

I want to start with a poem by Gurumayi taken from her book entitled Ashes At My Guru's Feet.  This collection of poems tell in poetic verse and metaphor of the experiences of transformation she underwent when Baba Muktananda transferred the power of the Siddha Lineage to her, thus making her the living Head of the Siddha Yoga Lineage.  Her poems speak boldly and lovingly of grace and the Guru.  Her ego had become purified by her Guru's love and the fire of his grace.   The transforming power of her guru's shakti had reduced her old self to ashes, and finally her love and identification with her Guru was able to become complete; she became like her Guru, a Great Being, a sadguru, a Meditation Master--one who lives in the constant awareness and unbroken union with the living shakti, the Supreme Self, the primordial Guru, Shiva.   

Gurumayi's use of the metaphors mirrors and reflections relate to my symmetrical photographs in important ways.  I've included four new images in this chapter.  I will not add any commentaries to the photographs in this chapter; instead, I ask that you contemplate the images within the context of Baba's and Gurumayi's teachings, beginning with this poem by Gurumayi: 

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

A thousand mirrors were neatly placed
On the table of my life.
Since life itself was an enigma,
I looked for meaning in the reflections.

Each mirror had its own width and depth
And also its own distortions.
Some Reflections were smaller, and others larger;
Still others were totally out of proportion,
Yet they seemed to speak about life
And shed meaning on existence.
I watched the myriad reflections
Of feelings, thoughts, and actions.

In the beginning it was all fun,
Like a child's game--
But the game was not distant from reality.
A thousand mirrors became my dwelling.
Time passed, watching.
It seemed a comfortable way of living.

Then the Guru's grace struck my life.
One by one, each mirror was shattered to pieces.
The reality of my existence was at stake.
The table of my life was shaking.

As grace continued to strike,
Each mirror was broken into thousands of fragments.
The reflections became innumerable.
But now they no longer made sense.
Each single, clear reflection had become multifaceted.
One reflection of sadness became many.
One reflection of joy was also multiplied.
Yet nothing held true meaning anymore.

The Guru's grace continued to strike.
Ultimately, the last mirror, so dear to my heart,
The mirror which maintained the difference
Between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul,
Was about to be destroyed.

My whole being wept.
My senses abandoned me.
My world crumbled.

Destruction took its time.
While grace was penetrating deeply,
I said to myself, "People say grace is a shelter.
Why, then, am I losing all I have?"

The last mirror,
Which gave me hope,
Which gave me support,
Which held my entire universe together,
My dearest friend for lifetime after lifetime,
Was about to become the prey of grace.

The sword of light shone brilliantly.
Reflections melted in this mirror.
Finally, when the strongest mirror exploded,
Not even a trace remained
Of that existence which had once
Found meaning in reflections.

A wondrous thing had happened.
All the reflections had become grace;
All the mirrors had become grace.
Grace had revealed that everything is grace.

The Guru smiled as my non-existent life
Merged into the one truth -- the love of my Guru.

The table of my life had vanished;
My life itself had become the life of my Guru.

                        Photography & Yoga   Grace   Image #14     Symmetrical Photograph:  All the Mirrors and their Reflections  became Grace

The Guru Principle
Siddha Yoga is a devotional yoga; it is based essentially on Divine love, the deep inner feeling and longing which the disciple feels for God, the Creator, and his or her Guru; and the love which the Guru feels for the disciple.  The Guru's love manifests as blessings of grace, transmissions of shakti, bestowed upon the disciple.  How this miracle happens is unfathomable, and the forms these blessings take, innumerable.  

Baba Muktananda has written and spoken passionately and voluminously about the Guru-Disciple relationship, and Guru's Grace.  His autobiography The Play of Consciousness explains it in great detail.  The stories are all based in his own inner experiences through his relationship with his beloved guru, Bhagawan Nityananda.  But also important, Baba was the perfect scholar.  He studied the ancient yogic scriptures his entire life, and he traveled throughout India and studied with many of the greatest saints living in India, before finally meeting his beloved Nityananda.  Thus Baba always spoke and wrote and taught yoga with the greatest possible authority.  I feel this authority as the living shakti whenever I read his words.  

In the text excerpts below, taken from a talk Baba gave entitled "The Guru Principle," he explains how the Guru manifests as two aspects: the all pervasive cosmic Principle, and as the Principle which operates through an individual, physical human form.  The talk was transcribed and published in Darshan magazine #75, June 1993  

There are different teachers [gurus] for different stages in our worldly life.  They all have a useful role and deserve our respect, but none of them can be called a real or true Guru.  The true Guru must be brahmanishtha: that is, he must be permanently established in Brahman, the Supreme Reality.  By virtue of that he comes to have the power to transmit divine power directly into a disciple. . .  He knows, "I am Brahman; I am the Highest Truth."  After perceiving the Truth, one who perceives the true Reality and begins to live constantly in that Truth, he is brahmanishta.   The word ishta means identificationThis identification is not with the body; it is not identification with a caste, race, country, or political party.  It is not any of these silly identifications.  Brahmanistha is identification with the Supreme.

Such a Guru is like God.  There is no difference between him and the Divine Being.  He has consummated his own individuality, has merged it into the Absolute, and has become one with it.  Such a Master is forever free from the chains of limited existence and limited knowledge.

The Guru must have the power of Shaktipat, the power to transmit his own energy into his disciple to awaken the dormant divine power within him and pierce his disciple's chakras.  After awakening the Kundalini in a disciple, the Guru must be able to control its workings.  He must be able to maintain the process which he has initiated in a disciple . . .  The Guru calms the disciple's restless mind completely, making him free from all agitation and disturbances . . . he makes his disciple like himself.


The Guru tattva, or Guru principle, is the timeless primordial principle, and it exists on two levels.  first, there is the supreme Guru, the cosmic Principle, who is all-pervasive and all-knowing.  Then there is the individual Guru from whom you receive Shaktipat (transmission of divine energy) and from whom you attain perfection.  

The nature of the Guru is described in a Sanskrit verse from the Guru Gita [Song of the Guru] . . .  "The Sadguru is the embodiment of the bliss of the Absolute, the bestower of the highest joy.  He is knowledge personified.  He is beyond duality.  He is formless like the sky. . .  He is eternal, pure, immobile, the witness of all intellects, beyond all mental conditions and devoid of the three gunas."

Baba continues:  The Guru is not an individual; the Guru is the pure absolute bliss . . . his form is not made of flesh; the Guru's body is pure knowledge, the knowledge that all this is Brahman, all this is God.  There is no darkness of ignorance in him; ignorance cannot last anywhere near Him.  

He is totally free from the sense of duality, from a sense of opposites, from a sense of polarities.  He is beyond the consciousness of differences . . .  For him everything is the same.  

He is the one Being . . . the One in the many.  Though we may see many things around us, the Guru is the only One -- that One who remains the same though he seems to have become many.  and because he is just the One, he is everlasting, he is eternal.  He existed now, and he will always exist.  He exists here, he exists there, he exists above and below, and he exists in everything.  He is totally pure; his nature is purity, and no matter with whom he lives or where he lives his purity can never be tainted.

The Guru is the supreme Witness.  He remains immobile in his inner nature like a mountain.  Who is the Witness?  The Witness is the one who just watches the good and bad thoughts that pass through the mind without identifying itself with the good thought or rejecting the bad thoughts.

The Guru is the source from which all creation has come.  He is also the witness of the intellect of all creatures; he is the witness of man, animals, all the creatures that ther are in the universe.

He transcends all the mental states, all the feelings of good or bad, positive or negative.

[The word "Guru"] considts of two syllables, gu (darkness) and ru (light).  Gu is the one who destroys the darkness of ignorance which has enveloped one's heart, and ru stands for the inner divine Light.  The Guru puts his disciples in contact with the divine light.  This is the nature of the Guru as the cosmic Principle.


Then we have the individual aspect of the Guru Principle, the Guru Principle operating through a physical form.  How can a human being become a Guru?  Even if he becomes a Guru in this human body, how can he be identical with Shiva or God?  A Guru is he who has become one with the Shakti of God, who has merged himself in the energy of God; so a Guru is nothing but Shakti or energy.  He is Shiva.  He is supreme Consciousness.  He is the Self.  He is everything.

That individual is a Guru who, by constantly contemplating the true nature of the Guru, has become just like the Absolute,  just like the highest Being.  Such a one is said to ba a Guru in a physical form.  So that one alone is a Guru, who by meditating on the cosmic guru, or absolute guru, merges into Him and becomes just like Him.

Though he lives in a body, his awareness transcend the body; and after having drawn the power of God into himself, he functions just like Him.  Such a one is called a Siddha, and a Siddha is one who is totally free, who is totally free from the pull of his own mind. . .  his intellect is firmly anchored in the awareness, "I am the Absolute, I am everything."

His ego has identified itself totally with the So'ham awareness (I am That), so he is free from the ego; his ego is the universal ego.  

A Guru is totally free from the pull of the external senses as well; he has completely mastered all his senses.  

A Guru is one who has saturated himself with the divine power of grace and has become just like the divine.  He also has the power of transmitting grace into others, and enables them to become just like himself . . .  A Guru is one who has the power of Shaktipat.

A Guru is above body-consciousness, and he is totally serene.  He removes all the blockages, and he transmits knowledge as thoroughly outlined in the scriptures. 


So the Guru has two aspects: the individual aspect and the cosmic or transcendental aspect.  A Guru is one who has attained the Supreme and who acts as the Supreme.  If one were to meditate on such a Guru, one would become just like him.

                                      Photography & Yoga     Grace     Image #15     Symmetrical Photograph:  Vibrant Radiant Light  Projected from Within

Grace and the Creative Process
According to Kashmir Shaivism, the primordial Guru, Lord Shiva, is the Creator of the universe and Master of the Five Creative Acts.  There is nothing that is not Shiva, nothing that does not contain Shiva's Divine consciousness and creative energy, or Shakti.  Through His Divine Will and Creative Power, the Primordial Guru, Shiva: (1) creates, (2) sustains and (3) and dissolves His Universe; He takes the form of all that He creates . . . but He (4) conceals Himself within his creations; He dwells, hidden, within all that we can perceive in His universe, and in all that we do not see.  He dwells in the heart of every human being  . . .  and yet, until we are awakened by the Guru's Grace--Shiva's Shakti--most of His creatures do not experience or recognize His presence, even within their own hearts.  

The Fifth Creative Act (5) Bestowal of Grace is the most mystical of the five acts:  In this act, Shiva unveils Himself to his creatures, which essentially is the revelation of the Creator to Himself.  Though he is present and hidden in everything . . . it is through His Grace, through Shaktipat, that we are given the opportunity to consciously experience, feel, recognize and ultimately come to know in the most direct way the Divine Consciousness within our own Being, within our own hearts.  

The yogic practices are meant to help us prepare to get in touch with our own Divinity and the grace that is constantly being showered upon us in our lives, but it is the True Guru who is empowered to awaken us to the Truth through the transmission of grace, or Shaktipat.  The teachings tell us that it is our love and our longing to know God, that draws grace to us; and it is our efforts to connect with God, by doing the yogic practices, that draws the Guru's grace to us.  And finally, when we experience grace we come to the realization: God dwells within us, as us. 

My creative process in photography has helped me to become more aware and engaged with God's presence both in the world and within myself.  My best photographs--those images which function for me as articulate visual equivalents or symbols--embody God's presence and unveil That presence; they also radiantly project the vibrant, living creative energy--or shakti--outward from within the images.  I feel that energy when I am photographing; and I most fully experience that energy when I contemplate the photographs.  Contemplation is the process in which I open to the grace within the photograph and imbibe that energy, absorb it into myself . . . "take it to heart."

Imbibing God's Grace
You must make a strong and earnest effort
to keep your mind engaged with God all the time.
Self-realizaton comes through strong effort

God resides in everyone equally.
His Shakti dwells in everyone equally

How we imbibe it is up to us. 

Baba Muktananda


When people ask, "why must we perform the practices,
why do sadhana?" the only answer is: The [yogic] practices are 
the body of God.  They are His visible form; they are 
vibrant with Shakti.

If you hold on to this visible aspect of God, then you're able
to receive the invisible aspect; you're able to experience the 
atman, the great Spirit.    

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda


Darshan & Shiva Drishti  Seeing Shiva & Seeing with the eyes of Shiva 
Since meeting Gurumayi and receiving Shaktipat from her 28 years ago (as I write this in late July, 2015) I have sustained a living connection with grace through both my photography and my yogic practices, which include: spending time with Gurumayi and participating in programs she offers, meditating each day, mantra repetition, chanting, seva, reading and contemplating the yogic scriptures and the teachings of the yogic saints, especially those of Gurumayi, Baba Muktananda, and Bhagawan Nityananda.  

Through the processes of photographic picture-making, and the contemplation of my photographs, I experience the vision--the Darshan--of Divinity in the things of the world.  I see the Divine presence within all things, and I see myself seeing That"Everything has eyes, everything is looking at me!"  I see as if through the eyes of Shiva: this is called "the outlook of Shiva" or Shiva Drishti.   When I have the Darshan of Shiva through my creative process in photography, when I see through Shiva's eyes as I am photographing and contemplating my photographs, it is God seeing God. 

To follow spiritual practices means to store as much grace within yourself as possible while living in this very world.  Gurumayi

Self-effort and the Guru's grace are like the two wings  of a bird.  
The bird needs both to fly to the goal.   Baba Muktananda

                                                                                 Photography & Yoga 5     Grace      Image #16         Symmetrical Photograph  

To See, To Praise, The Visible Form of God
The great photographers Alfred Stiegliz and Edward Weston; the great painters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky; and many other artists, poets and composers . . . have spoken of the "spiritual" in art.  In their own individual ways they have said that their art "makes visible the invisible."  

The human creative act indeed manifests grace in sensible forms: visual art, poetry, music.  There is a direct correspondence between Shiva's Five Creative Acts, the human act of art making, and the following teaching by Gurumayi on the yogic practices:   

The practices are the body of God.  They are His visible form; they are 
vibrant with Shakti.  If you hold on to this visible aspect of God, then you're able
to receive the invisible aspect; you're able to experience the atman, the great Spirit.    

Before I met Gurumayi and received Shaktipat from her, I would sometimes feel a "vibrant energy" in my photographs; and making photographs was a way for me to give visible form to a spiritual presence that I could sometimes feel existed "behind the appearances."  But these feelings remained only a vague, distant truth for me, an intuition without true understanding.  

Remarkably, after I received Shaktipat from Gurumayi, I began feeling grace alive and flowing vibrantly within my own body, throughout my entire Being.  Grace had become a living presence as close to me as my breath and my heartbeat.  Grace was present in everything.

I like what the great poet Rilke said about great art, that it amounts to praise: "To praise is the whole thing!"  Making photographs that function for me as equivalents or symbols is an act of affirmation, a celebration of a recognition, the unveiling of the Divine Self in the world and giving visual form to that experience, that seeing, that feeling.  Photographs can  make visually palpable that "invisible" spirit which dwells in all things, including--as the yoga scriptures say--my own heart.  

When I am chanting God's name with Gurumayi and other devotees, I feel resonantly alive, more complete, more whole.  A transformation occurs; everyone becomes in alignment with each other; we sing as One united Voice.  I have a similar feeling when I am photographing and contemplating my photographs, those which function as equivalents or symbols for me.  These images hold corresponding interior and exterior contents together in alignment, and as such they praise the transcendent, vibrant and luminous truth: the Unity of Being.  

Alignment with Grace  Resonance in Light and Stillness
The world is as you see it.  When the light of the Self shines in your eyes, the whole cosmos is seen vibrating in the form of the Self.   Baba Muktananda

The act of making photographs is for me a kind of open-eyed meditation.  The play of the shakti gets everything in the frame in just the right alignment, and this alignment gives an internal glow to the tonal unity of the image.  The photographs that come into existence with grace have a special kind of luminosity, a vibrant radiance.  My job as an artist often seems nothing more than simply making the effort to get the camera out, and then get my mind and ego out of the way.   When I am truly seeing photographically, seeing with an open heart, my mind becomes still, and this allows grace to do Its work.  Then I am "seeing through the eyes of Shiva," I am having to Darshan of the Lord through my camerawork.

When I chant or meditate, when I contemplate a spiritual text or a photograph . . . my heart opens and my mind becomes silent;  the inner and the outer worlds shimmer together in alignment.  This experience of unity manifests an interior light which Baba says is the "light of the Self."  When I engage my photographs with an open heart, with a silent mind, I take the images and their shakti to heart; the images awaken a gentle energy in me which Baba Muktananda calls "the nectar of love."  I feel this energy circulating through my body.  

The self-effort and the longing with which I call forth my creative process, and my willingness to let grace, the creative Shakti, move through my picture-making process, generates an alignment between my will and the Divine Will of the Creator.  This alignment between Creator and Its creature manifests an image of Unity that is at once vibrantly alive with shakti, and at peace with itself.   Such images "resonate with stillness"--a phrase from a teaching by Gurumayi.  Such images, which I call symbols or equivalents, are celebrations of the Self, images which praise "the whole thing."

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Two Personal Stories

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        Photography & Yoga     Grace     Image #17       Symmetrical Photograph:   Purification ~ Shakti

The Purifying Power of Grace  A Personal Story
A Guru is above body-consciousness, and he is totally serene.  He removes all the blockages, and he transmits knowledge as thoroughly outlined in the scriptures.  Baba Muktananda 

Our bodies and our minds are permeated with impurities.  The yogic teachings say we come into this world with mental patterns from a vast history of past lives and actions (karma,  samskaras)that need to be purified, dissolved.  The ego does everything in its limited power to obstruct our movement toward connecting with the transforming purifying powers of the Shakti and, ultimately, merging with the Divine Self.  The yogic practices and the Guru's Shakti--self effort and grace--work together on the ego to purify it, to dissolve past karmas, to remove obstacles from our path and gain access to the hearts of those whose doors have become sealed shut with lifetimes of abuse and neglect.  

The ways of Guru's Grace are mysterious, and quite often impossible to understand; to illustrate this, here is a personal story that I believe to be about the purifying workings of grace:  

After I met Gurumayi in 1987 and received Shaktipat Initiation from her, I began attending the Milwaukee Siddha Yoga Center.  Around two years later, our small community was invited to the Chicago Center for a special audio program with Gurumayi to be broadcast live from her ashram in South Fallsburg, NY.  The program was to announce that she was leaving  the United States for an undetermined period of time.  She was returning to the principal Ashram in Ganespuri, India where some major construction projects would require her close and constant supervision.  The audio program was to be a global broadcast in which devotees around the world would be sending Gurumayi blessings of love and a bon voyage!  

I was feeling very sad about this news.  It meant that we devotees especially in North America, would not be seeing Gurumayi next summer in South Fallsburg, and who knew how long after that?  I was definitely going to miss seeing and being near her physical form.  For most of us at the program, strong feelings of longing began swelling up within our aching hearts as soon as we heard this news.

In the program Gurumayi spoke to her global community of devotees in the most loving way; she was saying good-bye, but she also reminded us that we would always be together in the space of the heart no matter where in the physical world she needed to be at any given time.  The heart was "the universal hall," a place that transcended time and space, where we were always together.  "Wherever there is love, I am there."

Then we started chanting together.  Chanting is a very powerful practice that unites all hearts in the sound of one voice.   It was a very slow and beautiful chant whose melody expressed exactly the longing and love we all were feeling for our beloved Guru.  As the chant progressed, my heart began overflowing with love, and I could feel the divine energy growing palpably thicker and thicker in the Chicago Center's meditation hall.

There were two simple parts to the chant: a rising melodic line, which Gurumayi and a few others in South Fallsburg would sing as the lead or "call" group; and then a lower register variation on the same melody followed, which everyone else sang in response to Gurumayi's call.  We had been chanting for a while in this call-and-response pattern when all of a sudden I saw a subtle inner image of Gurumayi's arms and hands.  Though I couldn't see her face, I knew it was Gurumayi; I recognized the red silk sleeves of her gown, and of course I recognized her hands.  It had been less than two years since my Shaktipat experience--and I would never forget those beautiful hands which I had seen pushing open the doors of my heart.

The yogic teachings say that once your receive Shaktipat from a True Guru, that Guru will guide and protect you through your sadhana as long as you do the practices with great self-effort and devotion.  Certainly, it was Gurumayi's grace that was initiating this inner image I was seeing:  She roled up her sleeves in a very determined way, as if to say very clearly with her body language: "Time to get to work--there's a lot to be done here."  

Then as the chant continued I saw her hands and bared arms reach deep down into a dark space, something like a pit that seemed to be in my lower abdominal area.  When she pulled her hands up and out of the pit into the light, I could see she was holding a mass of dark, thick, tar-like substances.  Her hands were so full with the stuff that it was spilling over and out of her hands . . .  

She disposed of the dark muck and then proceeded to reach down into that dark pit again.  Her hands moved down in synch with the lower sounding refrain of the chant.  This time, as she reached deep inside, I felt a stabbing sensation in the area of my stomach; my body bent over in a slumping contraction; my face grimaced in pain. 

When she pulled the black stuff up and out, her gesture was aligned with the higher musical refrain of the chant.  As the music rose to its nearly ecstatic peak of high notes, the black stuff dissolved and I experienced the sweet feeling of release and a gentle feeling of bliss.  With this release my back straightened up and my head titled backward with my face looking up toward the ceiling.

As the musical refrain subsided and began to transition once again toward the lower refrain, my body quietly relaxed into a gentle repose and I sobbed with deep feelings of love and gratitude as hot tears streamed down my face in a continuous flow.  As the lower refrain began to emerge another painful contraction began . . .  

This cycle of expansion and contraction, pain and ecstasy, repeated over and over again.  At one point I wondered what the experience I was having looked like to others, for clearly I was having a very dramatic kriya.  I tried to be as quiet as possible; I kept my eyes closed most of the time; and I tried as best I could to stay actively engaged with the chant, but once in a while I opened my eyes in an attempt to ground myself during this mysterious and physically challenging experience.  When I opened my eyes I could see across the room to some of my friends from the Milwaukee Center.  They were watching with real concern in their eyes, but at the same time I could tell that they understood that what I was experiencing was important, and that Gurumayi's grace was guiding and directing the whole dramatic event and so everything was safe and OK.  


When the chant ended, I was exhausted but I was overflowing with feelings of great love and gratitude.  I had gone through some kind of intense purification process--that much I felt pretty sure about.  Baba and Gurumayi always reminded us that the Guru--as the grace bestowing power of the Creative Shakti--served each individual disciple in the ways that were perfect for their particular sadhana.  I don't know why I experienced what I did that day.  Perhaps it was a healing of some kind, or a removal of some karmic obstacle.  What I do know is that this experience assured me that I am being watched over, cared for, protected and loved by my Guru and Her grace.  The yogic saints teach that whatever happens, happens for the best; whatever happens is the play of the shakti, the creative manifestation of the Guru's grace.  They teach that if we can imbibe that grace, that teaching, that experience will advance us on our path to liberation.      

*               *               *

Abhishek Water  A Personal Story
Bhagawan Nityananda was Swami Muktananda's Guru.  The Siddha Yoga Path originated through Nityananda's Divine Will and His command that Muktananda create an ashram in Ganespuri, India and then travel around the world to offer the teachings of Siddha Yoga to whoever would receive them.  Baba served his Guru unquestioningly and wholeheartedly. 

Nityananda (b.1897? - d.1961) was said to have been born a perfected being, a Siddha Guru.  He performed many miracles that made him a well known and relatively popular saint in India.  He spoke very little, but people from all parts of India would come to have his Darshan, to be in His Divine presence, to imbibe His shakti.  Children loved to be near Bade Baba, as He was affectionately called.  His most famous teaching is placed over the entrance of the Nityananda Temple in South Fallsburg, NY:  The Heart is the hub of all sacred places.  Go there and roam.

When I first got involved with Siddha Yoga, Bhagawan Nityananda was a mystery to me.  I felt close to  Swami Muktnanda through his writings, and I loved being near Gurumayi's physical form: she was--and to this day remains--the most powerful person I have ever encountered.  But Nityananda was only vaguely familiar to me as Baba's Guru.   

Then one day, a short time after I met Gurumayi, I had an amazing meditation experience that connected me to Nityananda in a very profound way.  Since then, every time I meditate I remember Nityananda and that experience; I see the images I experienced of Him in that meditation.  I especially enjoy the memory of Him rolling over and laughing ecstatically.  (read Story #15)


The Siddha Yoga Ashram in South Fallsburg, New York is alive with the Guru's presence and the shakti of so many devotees who have done the yogic practices there.  The most powerful place in the ashram is the Nityananada Temple, which contains a murti, a sculpture of Nityananda that had been "enlivened" by a very special ritual and a long series of mantras chanted by powerful Brahman Priests from India when the murti was initially installed inside the temple.  Periodically, the murti is given a ritual abhishek bathing using purified water, milk, gee, all kinds of spices, rose petals, fragrant oils and other very special ritual ingredients.  The abhishek also includes the recitation of mantras performed by Brahman Priests as they pour the bathwater over the murti.  

Sometimes Gurumayi participates in this ritual as well by pouring some of the abhishek mixture over the murti.  Its wonderful to watch her do this; she exudes the greatest one-pointed attention which is overflowing with devotion and respect toward Bhagawan Nityananda.  It is said that the abhishek ritual, and especially the devotion with which the ritual is performed, and the love which is offered to the murti by everyone who visits the Temple, keeps it alive with great Shakti.  

Everyone who comes into the temple bows with great respect and love to Nityayanda's murti.  There have been endless reports by devotees who have been blessed with life-changing experiences in the Temple as they meditated on Nityananda and chanted next to the murti.  As a matter of fact, my shaktipat experience happened just outside of  the Temple.  I could actually see the murti through the Temple's large windows. 

The personal story I want to share with you here has to do with the abhishek water.  One summer, when I visited the ashram for a full week, I was given transportation seva.  It is considered part of the ashram dharma to offer seva to Gurumayi and her ashram as part of one's spiritual practice while spending time at the ashram.  It was for me a remarkable week of unusual experiences of grace, and many of them were directly related to my transportation seva.  

For the most part I ran errands for the ashram that involved driving into New York City and New Jersey.  The workings of grace in that seva seemed to transform my experience of time and space in ways probably too inexplicable to explain.  But my abhisheck  experience was quite simple. 

One day I was given an assignment that involved picking up and transporting a large open tub of abhishek water from the Nityayanda Temple.  The abhishek ritual had been performed that day and Gurumayi wanted everyone in the ashram to have a little taste of the holy water as a gift--known as prasad (blessed food)--at the evening meal in the large Dining Hall. 

I and one other transportation sevite drove to the temple in a small pick-up truck where a swami and a large, rather heavy tub of abhishek water was waiting for us.  The swami instructed us to handle the tub very respectfully, and since the tub did not have a cover, to be sure not to touch the water so that it would remain as pure as possible for the evening's  offering of prasad.  

                                               Photography & Yoga     Grace       Image #18     Symmetrical Photograph:   Nityananda's Abhisheck Water 

The swami also reminded us that the ritual water was full of shakti from having been poured over Nityananda's living murti, and to be very careful not to spill any of this precious holy water.  

As my companion and I were very carefully loading the heavy tub of abhishek water into the back of the truck some of the holy water splashed up into the air and landed on the back of my hand.  At first I didn't know what I should do about this.  I put the question aside for a moment and focused on completing our task.  Once the tub was securely in the truck I came to the decision that the only dharmic thing to do was--with great devotion--imbibe the abhisheck water that had fallen on my hand.  After all, I had had a special connection with "Bade Baba" through an earlier meditation experience, and so imbibing the abhisheck water seemed not only the most loving and respectful thing to do, but it would be as well a gesture of gratitude . . . for surly, it was Nityananda's grace that had made the holy water leap into the air and fall--as if from the heavens--onto my hand.  

As we were driving the truck to the Dinning Hall I started becoming light headed and then rather giddy.  I became drunk on the gentle, humming-loving energy that was circulating throughout my body.  By the time we had gotten to the Dinning Hall I had become quite--though quietly--ecstatic with the feeling that had permeated my entire being from imbibing the prasad with which Nityananda had blessed me.

I like to imagine Bhagawan Nityananda laughing with unbridled freedom when He saw me getting giddy on His abhisheck water.


Although She assumes many forms, She is one.

When this unity awareness arrives from within, you begin to sway in the supreme bliss of the ultimate state.  Through the grace of the Shakti, as She is awakened within, you realize that She also permeates everything outside.

Through the grace of the Shakti, you can come to experience Shakti.

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda 


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