“Every feature of the Porziuncola lifts the heart and mind to God”
~ St. Padre Pio
“The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail.”
~ Sri Ramakrishna
Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.
~ Francis of Assisi
“The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today”
~ Francis Of Assisi
Remember with gratitude,
Life is beatitude –
Even its sorrows and pain;
For we’re all in God’s Grace,
Every time, every place, and
Forever (S)HE will reign!
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
When I moved from Chicago to San Francisco in 1960, I was largely uninformed about religions other than Judaism, and knew virtually nothing about saints. Even though Saint Francis of Assisi was patron saint of my new home, I remained ignorant of his life story until after my profound spiritual opening in 1976.
Then, through a series of synchronistic inner visions and outer events I developed a deep inner rapport with Saint Francis. And his prayer became – and remained – an important part of my daily spiritual practice.
On retirement from law practice in 1992, I made pilgrimages to India and Italy to pay my respects both to my spiritual master Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas and to Saint Francis.
On arriving in Italy in Springtime 1992, I rented a car at the Rome airport and drove northward to the Umbrian town of Assisi, where Francis was born and resided for most of his extraordinary life. As I arrived at the outskirts of Assisi, I immediately experienced a remarkable feeling of déjà vu, and was so overcome with emotion that I had to pull over to the side of the road as I began crying deeply and intensely for a long time.
My subsequent stay in Assisi and excursion to Mount La Verna in Tuscany – where Francis became the first saint to receive the crucifixion stigmata of Christ – proved magical, with unforgettable spiritual experiences.
One of the most profound of those experiences happened as I visited a tiny frescoed chapel called Porziuncola [“the little portion”]. It had been restored from a ruined condition by Francis and his early followers to become first home of the Franciscan order. Here, Francesco lived, wrote his rule, created his order of friars minor and consecrated his friend Clara (Chiara), who became Santa Clara, founder of a female order dedicated to Franciscan ideals of holiness and poverty. Francis so loved this little place that he chose to die there.
As I entered the Porziuncola at Assisi, I experienced a palpable aura of love and was overcome with emotion, cried deeply and intensely and lost track of time. Ever since then, a memory of that exquisitely simple little chapel and its aura of supernal Love has remained enshrined in my heart. Although I have never since returned that holy Assisi place, which Saint Francis named and loved, my cherished memory of the Porziuncola was revived following a surprising and synchronistic ‘holy encounter’ in San Francisco, almost twenty years later. Here’s what happened.
After retirement many years ago, it became my practice to walk almost daily along San Francisco Bay. Most often I walked to the Bay following pedestrian paths beside the Fort Mason Great Meadow, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), our nation’s newest National Park.
As I arrived at Fort Mason on a beautiful and sunny June morning, I was obliged to detour from my usual path to the Bay. The National Park Service had closed the pedestrian paths around the Great Meadow for repaving. So to reach the Bay I had to walk across the grassy meadow. There I saw a very unusual sight. Perhaps hundreds of children, attended by mostly senior adults, many dressed in white, were gathered in the meadow. Many tents were set up for children’s activities, such as face painting and fortune telling. Sweet music was playing on loud speakers.
I was quite impressed by this charming scene, of sweet children and caring adults, and I sensed an especially loving atmosphere pervading the meadow. Curious, I asked the first chaperone I encountered, “what’s happening?”. A lovely senior lady told me that this was a children’s fair sponsored by the Meher School of Lafayette (a San Francisco suburb) for its students and for children from less affluent San Francisco neighborhoods, who had also been invited. [*see footnote]
Inspired by the love I perceived and felt there, I continued walking through the meadow and toward the Bay. After hiking out to the end of San Francisco Municipal Pier, I began returning home. Soon, I noticed an unopened bottle of spring water apparently dropped by a cyclist. I picked up the water bottle, determined to give it to someone at the children’s festival in the Great Meadow.
As I arrived again at the meadow, I was met by a tall friendly (and thirsty) man named Peter, who seemed to be watching out at the perimeter of the children’s gathering. Though we’d never met, he somehow seemed familiar. In greeting me Peter asked, “would you like to know what’s happening?” After I recounted what I already knew about the festival and gladly gave Peter the bottle of spring water, he told me more details of this event.
Peter explained that this gathering was like a mini-Umbrian children’s festival inspired by universal values of Saint Francis of Assisi which are similar to those of the Meher School; and, that periodically the school sponsors a play about the life of Francis performed at various venues, including at The National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi, located in San Francisco’s oldest church in the North Beach district.
I was very surprised when Peter mentioned a national shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi located in San Francisco. Though I’d then lived in San Francisco more than fifty years, I don’t remember ever before hearing about such a national shrine. Moreover as Peter described the shrine, I was amazed to learn that it included an almost exact replica of the Porziuncola at Assisi, recently constructed at the instance of former San Francisco supervisor Angela Alioto.
Peter and I then exchanged stories about our respective springtime visits to Assisi and our heartfelt affinity with Saint Francis. On parting we shared contact information.
A few days later, I received an email invitation from Peter’s friend and colleague, Terry, to tour the San Francisco Porziuncola shrine, which I quickly accepted. Terry, was both music director of the Meher School’s sponsoring non-profit organization, Sufism Reoriented, and a member of the Knights of St. Francis, a volunteer organization which helps safeguard the national shrine.
The tour proved magical for me. With Terry and Peter as guides, I beheld for the first time the San Francisco “Porziuncola Nuova”. Before entering, I noticed carved in Italian on the second marble step a quote from Francesco: “Vi voglio tutti in Paradiso” [“I want you ALL in Paradise”]. On learning what those words meant, I experienced instant heart-felt emotion and tears.
As I entered the sanctuary that emotion deepened, and soon overcome by it I was obliged to sit silently in a pew, just as I did in Assisi. And, as in Assisi, profuse tears flowed. Unable to talk, I sat and cried for a while as Peter compassionately attempted to comfort me. In the San Francisco Porziuncola I didn’t lose track of time as I did in Assisi, and after crying for a while resumed conversation with Terry and Peter.
But I continued feeling so emotional in that sacred space that I was unable to focus on details of the beautiful pictorial art and artifacts around me, which I later observed on other visits.
I did however notice a prominently displayed letter Tau, the last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet which in biblical times closely resembled the letter T. [See below.] The Tau was adopted by Francesco as his own symbol or logo which he painted on the walls and doors of places where he stayed, and used in his writings as his only signature. (Synchronistically, I had a few days earlier been discussing with a friend possible use of a Tau as a logo for The Perennial Wisdom Foundation, the new non-profit corporation which I was then forming.)
Before exiting the “Porziuncola Nuova” I gazed upon and gently touched one of the holiest Franciscan relics in the world, a beautifully displayed rock believed to have been used by Francis as a crude tool in his reconstruction of the Porziuncola.
After departing the shrine, Terry and Peter and I adjourned for lunch in a nearby restaurant, where we shared stories of how Divine Grace has continuously blessed our lives, as it did on that magical day.
And in now reflecting on that wonderful day of rediscovery, I realize that it couldn’t have happened but for my synchronistic detours through the grassy Great Meadow and desire to share a bottle of spring water which I happened to find while walking by the Bay.
It seems that Divine Grace often works through synchronicity, and that the more alert we become to such synchronicity the more it happens.
What do you think?
* I later learned that this children’s fair was part of an ongoing national program called Francis in the Schools founded in 2010 by Dr. Carol Weyland Conner, spiritual director of Sufism Reoriented.
“The first preliminary practice consists of recognizing and giving value in its right measure to the precious human existence and the extraordinary opportunity that it gives to us to practice Dharma and to develop spiritually.”
~ Kalu Rinpoche – Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism
“[T]he reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I believe the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion.”
~ H.H. the Dalai Lama – Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World
“In the present circumstances, no one can afford to assume that someone else will solve their problems. Every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes are not sufficient; we must become actively engaged.”
~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from “The Path to Tranquility: Daily Wisdom”
Introduction. I have been blessed by meeting and learning from many spiritual teachers, in addition to my beloved Guruji, Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas. Especially inspiring and helpful have been certain Tibetan Buddhist teachers.
Soon after my mid-life spiritual awakening, I was first exposed to Buddhist teachings via radio. For many years, I regularly listened to masterful New Dimensions Radio interviews by Michael Toms of spiritual teachers and authors, often Buddhists. And on Sunday nights, while driving home from visiting my parents, I regularly heard on KPFA recorded talks by Buddhist teacher, Alan Watts, a brilliantly insightful and articulate former Episcopal priest who had ‘converted’ to Zen Buddhism and moved from the UK to Marin County, California. Also for a short time I attended Sunday morning dharma talks and Zazen meditations at the beautiful and bucolic Green Gulch Zen Center in Marin County.
After my 1978 shaktipat initiation by Guruji I mostly focussed on Hindu spiritual teachings. But I remained curious about other spiritual and mystical traditions, especially non-duality teachings which I found not only in Advaita Vedanta, but also in Buddhism, Taoism and Sufism. (Ultimately, beyond religion, I became most focussed on certain universal wisdom principles at the heart of all enduring spiritual, religious, philosophical and ethical paths – like the “Golden Rule”. And to further those teachings I established The Perennial Wisdom Foundation.)
During a 1979 apparent ‘near death’ experience, I had visions of ethereal, luminescent and intricate mandalas – like those associated with Vajrayana Buddhism – which sparked much curiosity about Tibetan Buddhists and their mandalas. Soon afterwards I was synchronistically blessed with darshan of Tibetan lamas who in diaspora had started coming to the West. Most important for me were H.H. the Dalai Lama – who remains a living inspiration for me, and Kalu Rinpoche, a very venerable Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, now deceased and reborn.
For over thirty years I have been deeply inspired by core Buddhist teachings, as practiced by the Tibetans, though I never became a practicing Buddhist. In the 1980’s I honored that inspiration by receiving refuge and taking Boddhisattva vows from Kalu Rinpoche, and by receiving empowerments and teachings from both Kalu Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama, as well as other Tibetan lamas.
Taking Refuge. After meeting Kalu Rinpoche, I soon took refuge from him in the three jewels of Buddhism – the Buddha, sangha and dharma. In a brief refuge ceremony with this great yogi, I thereby symbolically committed to honor the Buddha – as my own true nature – and those teachings and communities which would advance realization of that Buddha nature.
Boddhisattva vows. Shortly after taking refuge I was inspired to take Boddhisattva vows from Kalu Rinpoche to altruistically help all sentient beings end their sufferings.
In taking these vows I was deeply inspired by this selfless Tibetan Buddhist ideal exemplified by the Dalai Lama, Kalu Rinpoche and many other Lamas. Never content with only their own spiritual evolution and salvation, Buddhist Boddhisattvas postpone their own ‘nirvana’ choosing to take continuing rebirths in order to serve humanity until every sentient being has been helped to liberation. For example, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, is latest in a long line of Boddhisattva Dalai Lamas, believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet.
Taking Boddhisattva vows symbolically marked an important transition from my prior aspiration to escape through spiritual “enlightenment” from this world of inevitable suffering. Rather than yearning to leave this crazy world forever, I took those vows aspiring to stay here in ways which might help all life everywhere, as I continued to observe and clear my own mental defilements.
Enlightenment as a Process. After taking these Buddhist vows, I didn’t expect an early departure from space/time causality reality. Instead, influenced by Buddha’s teachings that conditioned existence (samsara) has been going on for so long that all beings may have been each other’s parents in some lifetime, I began regarding “enlightenment” as a virtually endless evolutionary process in which – except for Buddhas and Boddhisattvas – we unwittingly participate for eons.
The Tibetan Tulku Tradition. Tulkus are emanations of those who retain spiritual consciousness and continuity through successive births. Except perhaps for rare Buddhas and very evolved beings, on rebirth almost everyone experiences ‘instant amnesia’ about conscious details of other lifetimes and prior spiritual learning, which details remain in our subconscious memory. The Tibetan Tulku tradition, aims to facilitate fulfillment of boddhisattva vows by locating reborn Lamas at an early age and training them from childhood to rekindle their consciousness of Buddhist teachings and practices. Tibetans have elaborate tests to prove that newly reborn Tulkus are truly who the waiting elders think they are, such as checking whether the child can recognize acquaintances or possessions from his previous life or answer questions only known to his former life-experience. For example, this process is portrayed in Kundun, the classic biographical film about the Dalai Lama. Some rare Tibetans (like the Karmapa) are able to foretell before dying where they will consciously take rebirth.
Karma. The Tibetans’ Tulku tradition is inextricably intertwined with their teachings about karma, rebirth, and Boddhisattvas. Although virtually all mystical traditions accept karma, afterlife and reincarnation, the Tibetan Buddhists’ karma and rebirth teachings and their Boddhisattva traditions especially helped me enhance identification with spirit while diminishing my psychological fear of bodily death.
According to Eastern philosophies, Karma is universal law of cause and effect applied at subtle levels to everything we think, do or say during repeated rebirths as supposedly separate beings. A similar concept is implicit in Western teachings that we reap as we sow. [Galatians 6:7-9]
As long as we self-identify as subjects separate from supposed objects of our choice or intention, our exercise of supposed free will creates karmic causes and conditions. Buddhism teaches that karma means “volitional action.” Any thought, word or deed conditioned by samsaric illusion – for example, defilements like desire, hate, or passion – creates karma. On death, the unexperienced effects of karmic causes, result in unavoidable rebirths.
What is reborn? “Reincarnation” is commonly understood to be the transmigration of a “soul” – viz. apparently circumcised spirit – to another body after physical death. But in Buddhism there is no concept of separate soul or individual self that survives death. Yet Buddhists believe in rebirth.
So, what do Buddhists say is reborn to experience karmic causes and conditions, or to fulfill Boddhisattva vows? I will simplistically and metaphorically share my understanding.
I was once told by Swami Sivananda Radha that during a private audience with the Dalai Lama she asked, “In view of Buddhist teaching that there is no separate self or soul, what reincarnates?” And His Holiness replied: “An energy vortex.”
The Dalai Lama’s explanation that an “energy vortex” is what incarnates was consistent with Western science. Since Einstein’s groundbreaking theory of relativity, quantum physicists have confirmed that in this world of space/time and causality everything is energy – every impermanent form and phenomenon, whether or not perceptible or measurable.
And for millennia seers and mystics have revealed that subtle mental energy bodies associated with physical bodies survive death of those physical bodies. Just as computers need an operating system to function, so do physical bodies. Like computers which operate via software, physical bodies are controlled by subtle mind-stuff energies (chitta). And when – like computers – physical bodies inevitably deteriorate and die, their mental software survives, and is reusable.
Thus, just as I am able to use with my new iMac the same OS X software system that operated my old iMac, I can (and may for eons) operate other physical bodies with the same mind-stuff energy that is animating this one. And those other physical bodies which will be using my pre-existing mental software, will probably display many of the same ‘operating features’ as my prior physical bodies. These mental operating systems can be gradually ‘up-dated’. But this usually requires a very slow process of intentional self-discovery and removal of mental obscurations and defilements.
Precious human birth. Before my spiritual awakening, like most other people, I never thought about being human, rather than some other life-form. But after meeting Guruji, I learned that Eastern spiritual paths identify human incarnation as an extraordinarily precious opportunity to evolve – beyond that of any other life-form; that Buddhist and Hindu teachings say that for evolution it is better to be born human than even in a heavenly realm.
Tibetan Buddhist teachings especially helped me realize that human birth is extraordinarily precious and rare. They persuaded me that although the unexperienced effects of karmic causes result in unavoidable rebirths, there is no guarantee that we will evolve on rebirths; that we obtain human bodies because of good deeds in former lives, but that without living compassionately and mindfully with continuing determination to transcend selfish behaviors we squander a rare chance to evolve spiritually.
In October 1982, in San Francisco, I participated together with hundreds of others in a Kalachakra empowerment given by Kalu Rinpoche. In describing the history and rare significance of that ceremony, Lama Kalu explained that our attendance arose from beneficial causes and conditions so mysteriously and statistically rare as to be well beyond ordinary human comprehension – like Jesus’ metaphor of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. For example, according to the Buddha, obtaining a human birth and following truth teachings is as unlikely as it is for a blind turtle to put its head through a single yoke which is cast on the oceans of this world.
In all events, Kalu’s teaching deeply impressed me with the preciousness and impermanence of human birth, and the importance of using it to evolve spiritually.
More memorable experiences with Kalu Rinpoche. Before receiving the Kalachakra empowerment, in 1982 I attended a public talk by Kalu Rinpoche at Fort Mason, San Francisco, about the Mahamudra experience, which he described (through an interpreter) as the quintessence of all Buddhadharma. Though I didn’t understand much of what was said, I intuited that I was in the presence of a great meditation master – like Guruji.
After talking about Mahamudra, Lama Kalu said that to help us understand Mahamudra experience he would give us a brief demonstration of that state of being. Whereupon, with ‘miraculous’ mind-power, he dramatically transformed the energy in that small lecture room. Suddenly my mind went completely still and I experienced a rare state of peace and oneness beyond comprehension or expression. By Kalu Rinpoche’s immense power as a meditation master, he briefly but unforgettably shared with us a glimpse of his rare and exalted state of clear mind.
A few years later, circa 1986-7, I had another memorable experience of Kalu Rinpoche’s powerful presence. Together with my daughter, Jessica, and friends Mark and Marsha Newman, I attended a public talk by him at the San Francisco Unitarian Universalist Church, one of the city’s largest religious sanctuaries. After waiting in a long line for some time, we managed to be seated in pews near the very back of the church.
Just as Kalu Rinpoche had ‘magically’ transformed the energy in the small lecture room where I heard him describe the Mahamudra experience, the energy ambience in that entire large church was palpably transformed upon his appearance at the pulpit. My daughter Jessica, had never before experienced such a spiritually powerful presence and was deeply impressed. Afterwards, she posted a picture of Kalu Rinpoche in her room, and though she never again saw him she was emotionally affected and cried on news of Kalu’s death in May, 1989.
After seeing Kalu Rinpoche at the Unitarian Church, I saw him again when he was interviewed by Michael Toms at the New Dimensions San Francisco radio studio. On his arrival at the studio he was introduced to staff and to me (as a New Dimensions director). Whereupon he came up to each one of us and humbly introduced himself with a friendly handshake. At that gesture, I was impressed with that great yogi’s humility – like Guruji’s. Later I was inspired to observe that: “The more we know we’re no one, the more we’re seen as someone”.
Learning to keep faith despite disillusionment. After many years of questioning, I have found a faith based life – beyond beliefs, dogmas, theologies or personalities. I was very much helped and encouraged in this process by another important and synchronistic encounter with Kalu Rinpoche, at a time of great disillusionment in my life,.
In the 1980’s after Guruji’s return to India I learned with shock that certain private behavior of a spiritual teacher (other than Guruji) with whom I had a close relationship was significantly inconsistent with his teachings and outer image. Though by this time, I knew of numerous instances in which well known spiritual teachers were credibly shown to be flawed humans, like the rest of us. But this was the first time that it happened with a teacher with whom I felt a close rapport and had spent much time. And I was emotionally upset and confused.
Whereupon, I learned that Kalu Rinpoche would be appearing for a morning talk and darshan at Kagyu Droden Kunchab a San Francisco Center dedicated to the ultimate benefit of all sentient beings, which he founded; that his Buddhist teachings would be followed by a question and answer session. I desperately wanted Kalu’s guidance about my crisis of faith. But I had to be in court that morning. So dressed in suit and tie, I came to the darshan with very limited time to spend there.
By the time that Kalu ended his talk, I had only thirty minutes left before needing to leave for court. Whereupon the translator announced that Rinpoche would now entertain questions, and virtually everyone in the room – including me – raised a hand for recognition. ‘Miraculously’ Kalu beckoned first to me to ask my question, which was:
“What is the proper attitude of a student on discovery of a teacher’s behaviors inconsistent with the teachings?”
Whereupon Lama Kalu gave an extremely wise and helpful thirty minute dissertation in response to my inquiry. As soon as he finished and began answering the next question, I was obliged to leave for court. I cannot recount details of what Kalu said, but the unforgettable essence of his answer was:
“Never lose faith in the teachings, even if you lose faith in the teacher.”
Only after years of introspection and more instances of disillusionment with teachers and others upon whom I had mistakenly projected flawless ethics, was I able to fully grasp Kalu’s wise teaching. During that process, I decided that “incarnation is limitation”; that no one is infallible; and, that “it is better to live the teachings, and not teach them, than to teach the teachings and not live them”.
A few years after my last face to face encounter with Lama Kalu, I was memorably reminded of his meditation mastery and his message of faith. On a beautiful week-end day while hiking in the forested higher elevations of Point Reyes National Sea Shore nature reserve, I decided to sit on a rock from which I enjoyed a panoramic view out into the ocean. As I beheld that inspiring nature scene in a meditative mood, Lama Kalu Rinpoche’s smiling visage fleetingly appeared in my inner vision. We never again met in this life, but I shall remain ever grateful for his blessings. With his encouragement I have never lost faith in this precious human life and in the infinite opportunities it affords us.
His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
Of all prominent living people, I am most inspired by H.H. the Dalai Lama – the spiritual leader (and former political leader) of Tibet. Apart from his Holiness’s spiritual attainments, which are beyond my comprehension, I am especially inspired by his universal compassion, wisdom, humility and humor.
I see him as a living exemplar of human potential – a Boddhisattva helping countless sentient beings and all life on our precious planet in infinite ways beyond religion or politics. Although my encounters with His Holiness have been impersonal – only as part of large audiences or via videos or writings – I feel a deep connection and harmony with him as a revered fellow human being.
Ever since an October, 1989 darshan, I have wondered whether that harmonious connection began in other lifetimes. At that time, I had the good fortune of being one of a limited number of people privileged to attend a ceremony to be conducted by His Holiness atop sacred Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, in a natural outdoor amphitheater. Because of limited highway access, the Dalai Lama was scheduled to arrive by helicopter. But his flight was delayed, and so we awaited his arrival.
Instead of waiting in the amphitheater, I decided to meditate in a nearby nature place. Then, on contemplating the Dalai Lama I experienced such heartfelt affinity and reverence, that I began an intense and protracted devotional crying jag. I became so overwhelmed with emotion of devotion that I was unable to stop weeping and enter the amphitheater even when I heard the sounds of the helicopter’s arrival. Ultimately, a compassionate Buddhist woman, who on her arrival had observed me crying, came out and taking me by the hand led me, still weeping, into the amphitheater.
The Dalai Lama is the only Tibetan teacher, including Kalu Rinpoche, with whom I have continuously felt such a deep devotional rapport – like my rapport with Guruji. He is regarded by Tibetans as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and perhaps it is this subtle energy which opens my heart. In all events, though I don’t yet remember another life as a Tibetan, I intuit an important karmic connection with His Holiness, and regard him as a role model for living an ethical and compassionate life, regardless of our religious or cultural history.
Here are some of the ways in which I have been inspired by the Dalai Lama’s life and teachings:
Compassion. In his ever inspiring deportment, talks, and writings, His Holiness manifests and emphasizes the crucial importance of compassionate behavior – even with enemies. Drawing great inspiration from him, I have gradually come to regard everyone I meet – including those with whom I have disagreements – as spiritual siblings – brothers or sisters all sharing the same aspirations for happiness and peace of mind, despite superficial cultural differences. And, despite my pronounced lawyer’s tendencies to combatively judge all adversaries, more and more I have even found compassion for those whose ignorance of their true spiritual identity leads them to egregiously harmful behaviors. For example, at a time when I considered former US President George Bush, Jr., a war criminal and mass murderer, His Holiness publicly described him as “a nice man.” Hopefully, he privately influenced Bush – with whom he shares the same July 6th birthdate – to adopt more compassionate ethics.
Humility. His Holiness is regarded by Tibetans and by many others as a living Buddha. For, example, a Tibetan emigre attending a Tibetan Losar new year ceremony conducted in Minneapolis by His Holiness told a newspaper reporter there that “for Tibetans in exile, seeing the Dalai Lama is akin to Christians getting to meet Jesus”. Moreover, especially since his nomination for the Nobel Peace prize, His Holiness has become like a world-wide rockstar celebrity, attracting capacity audiences for all public appearances. Yet he remains exceptionally humble, describing himself as “a simple Buddhist monk” and member of the Human family. Despite his renown as a living sage, I have heard him several times answering questions with “I don’t know”. In my experience, this is very rare behavior for an elevated Eastern spiritual teacher. For example, I have never heard of any such humble response from elevated Hindu teachers regarded as avatars or ‘god-men’. I was especially drawn to Guruji who (despite his Hindu acculturation) was exceptionally humble, and even told my friend Joy Massa: “follow your heart, even if it contradicts my words”.
I have always felt ambivalent about spiritual teachers who pontificate as if they are infallible. For me, such behavior encourages adulation over inspiration. And I am uncomfortable with any spiritual group or tradition emphasizing adulation of the incarnate over adoration of the Infinite.
In my opinion, selfless humility is a supreme virtue. It is especially rare in prominent people who are subject to great flattery, praise and adulation, which can easily entice and inflate ego, the enemy of compassion and humility. Those like the Dalai Lama, Guruji, Gandhi and Einstein, who have resisted such ego temptations I consider inspiring great beings.
Universal morality and ethics beyond religion. In public talks and in his recently published book “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World” His Holiness explains how inner values “are the source of both an ethically harmonious world and the individual peace of mind, confidence and happiness we all seek”, concluding that “the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion” which alone “is no longer adequate”. To me, this is a crucially inspiring message, which completely coincides with my philosophy and life experience. Before publication of “Beyond Religion” I established The Perennial Wisdom Foundation dedicated to elevating awareness of universal principles – like the ‘Golden Rule’ – at the heart of all enduring religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions. And His Holiness’s book and teachings have encouraged me to continue pursuing that path.
Politics, Economics and Ecology. Just as the Dalai Lama’s views on universal morality and ethics beyond religion have paralleled my views and inspired and encouraged me to pursue them, His Holiness supports liberal political, economic and ecological views with which I have long identified and pursued as a social justice advocate.
He recognizes as “a very great thing” Mahatma Gandhi’s sophisticated political implementation of ahimsa – the ancient moral teachings of nonviolence and non-injury. As an engaged Buddhist, the Dalai Lama outspokenly endorses Gandhian non-violent and compassionate political social action benefitting the majority of citizens, especially those underprivileged and exploited.
Thus, he rejects capitalist economics, as focussed on greed, gain and profits and outspokenly endorses democratic Marxist theory of equitable access to means of production and distribution of wealth. But, he rejects as lacking compassion and encouraging class hatred the so-called Marxism of the failed totalitarian former USSR, or China, and he objects to their excessive emphasis on class struggle.
Ecologically the Dalai Lama recognizes that Earth is severely threatened by ignorant human greed and lack of respect for all life on our precious planet. Accordingly, he urges that we become actively engaged as a global human family to resolve this crisis with compassionate solidarity, not just as a matter of morality or ethics but for survival of life as we know it. (See e.g. Spiritual People in a Perfectly Crazy World)
Conclusion. Thus I am supremely grateful for the wisdom and inspiration bestowed by Tibetan teachings and teachers, especially through His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who for me is a living exemplar of human potential – a Boddhisattva helping countless sentient beings and all life on our precious planet in infinite ways beyond religion or politics.
“And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles.”
~ Walt Whitman
“Synchronicity is choreographed by a great, pervasive intelligence that lies at the heart of nature, and is manifest in each of us through what we call the soul.”
~ Deepak Chopra, Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire
All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.
In deciding to move to San Francisco from Chicago I was attracted by San Francisco’s climate, physical beauty and ambiance. Within its boundaries there are more than fifty hills, several islands, and significant stretches of Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. So, some lucky San Franciscans enjoy wonderful views from their dwellings and working places.
When Naomi and I arrived in San Francisco in 1960, I was immediately attracted to view places, especially places with Bay and Golden Gate views. Though Naomi did not seem to share my great aesthetic appreciation of view places, our first tiny apartment was situated atop Buena Vista hill, and enjoyed a lovely Southeast panoramic city and Bay view. But we soon outgrew that apartment and rented a larger place in a more elegant neighborhood, without any view, where we resided for most of our remaining fifteen married years. But I never lost my love of view places, and ultimately rented law offices with lovely views.
Upon divorce, I moved into a one room furnished studio apartment without a view, intending later to find a larger unfurnished view apartment. My studio apartment was in a very large high-rise building with a magnificent panoramic view from its roof deck, which I sometimes enjoyed. When standing on that roof, I noticed a few corner apartments in the high-rise building across the street, with obviously wonderful views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge.
“The people living in those view apartments are lucky,” I thought, without imagining myself as a fortunate one of them. I remained in the studio apartment for over two years planning, but not actively trying, to move.
One morning as I left my studio apartment and was about to walk to work I met in the elevator, Mark, an upstairs neighbor and real estate lawyer. Mark offered me a ride to the financial district which at first I declined, telling him I preferred walking. But he persisted and urged me to join him – and I agreed. Whereupon he told me that before driving, he was going across the street (to 1998 Broadway) for a few minutes to register on a waiting list for an apartment rental there. And at his request, I accompanied him.
As we walked across the street, Mark told me that all apartments at 1998 Broadway were soon going to be converted from rentals to condominiums. He said he was registering to rent because tenants would be given the first option of purchasing their rented apartments, a good “investment” opportunity. Then he importuned me to also register for an apartment there.
Until this time I had been so occupied with my law practice and in adjusting to life as a single person, that I hadn’t yet looked for an unfurnished apartment. And I wasn’t then in the mood to do so. So at first I was reluctant to register for an apartment across the street before evaluating possible alternatives. But Mark explained that registering for an apartment at 1998 Broadway would not oblige me to take any apartment offered to me.
So I followed Mark’s well meaning advice and told the office manager that I too wished to be wait-listed for an apartment. She asked me whether I wished a one, two, or three bedroom apartment and if I had any other requirements. Without thinking I responded, “whatever first becomes available”.
Many months passed. I met Dhyanyogi, was fully occupied with personal and professional activities, and had almost forgotten about that apartment waiting list. Then I was surprised by a call from the 1998 Broadway building manager informing me that an apartment had become available for me.
She said she needed to rent it promptly and that she was calling me because she had been unable to contact Mark, who was ahead me on the waiting list, but out of town. I told her I’d call her back later in the day. Only after confirming that Mark was traveling abroad and was unreachable, did I tell her that I would promptly come to see the newly available apartment.
Miraculously, it was one of those few view apartments that I had noticed from the roof of my building across the street. It was apartment #1204 with two bedrooms and two baths, and the fourth best Bay and Golden Gate Bridge view in the entire 82 unit building.
On beholding the panoramic view, I immediately signed rental papers, and soon moved into apartment #1204. But, I felt concern about Mark, who was my benefactor but had missed this opportunity. However, the universe soon assuaged my concern. Shortly after Mark returned to San Francisco, he was called to rent an apartment above mine, #1404 with an even more panoramic view. I was happy that the waiting list sign-up thus turned out to be very lucky for both of us.
But renting my view apartment was only the beginning of this “manifestation miracle”. After I had been renting the apartment for about a year, Mark’s prediction of potential apartment ownership proved prescient. All tenants were notified that there were new owners of the building who intended converting it to condominiums.
Under San Francisco ordinances at that time, the new landlords were required to obtain majority tenant ratification of their conversion subdivision plans. So a tenants’ committee was organized to negotiate with the new owners. Mark and I were then the only lawyers in the building, and were asked to help with our legal skills. I agreed, but Mark was mostly busy with other matters.
After spending much time in legal research and in personally checking building records at City Hall and at the Department of Public Works, I discovered some significant “loop holes” enabling the tenants to exert much unforeseen bargaining power with the new landlords.
Ultimately, my legal work enabled the tenants’ committee to negotiate significantly reduced proposed purchase prices for those who wished to buy their apartments, plus generous bonuses for tenants who elected to move-out. I believe that aggregate value of these price reductions and move-out bonuses was about $2 million.
Tenant negotiators Alyce and Leonard Brown told me that the negotiating committee intended to accept the landlord’s latest offer, and invited me to attend their final meeting with the developer and his attorney. At the meeting, to my amazement, the committee informed the landlord that his latest offers of price reductions and move-out bonuses were acceptable, only subject to one further condition – that he pay Ron Rattner a very large specified fee for legal services rendered to the tenants.
The landlord immediately agreed to this condition, and I soon received, for legal services which I had intended as a pro bono gift to all my neighbors, what proved to be the largest legal fee of my entire professional career. That fee not only covered my condominium purchase down-payment but much of the rest of the purchase price as well.
For over thirty years the apartment has been the happiest dwelling place and best financial investment of my adult life. Moreover, in 1981, my apartment was the last place in the USA where Guruji stayed before returning to India.
His presence was another great gift, and it imbued the apartment with lasting spiritual energies and “good vibes” in addition to its wonderful view – all of which have continuously nurtured my spiritual evolution during a long and transformative life period.
So, I consider my condominium “high-rise hermitage” a synchronistic gift from the Universe and an important “manifestation miracle”, for which I remain ever grateful.
“… if someone is supposed to propagate the Dharma and their behavior is harmful, it is our responsibility to criticize this with a good motivation. This is constructive criticism, and you do not need to feel uncomfortable doing it. In “The Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattvas’ Vows,” it says that there is no fault in whatever action you engage in with pure motivation. Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. This may embarrass them and cause them to regret and stop their abusive behavior. Exposing the negative allows space for the positive side to increase. When publicizing such misconduct, it should be made clear that such teachers have disregarded the Buddha’s advice. However, when making public the ethical misconduct of a Buddhist teacher, it is only fair to mention their good qualities as well.”
~ Dalai Lama, Ethics in the Teacher-Student Relationship, 1993
“Can a guru who displays jealousy and competition toward other spiritual leaders help seekers? Such behavior shows that the personality aspects, each with its own ego, are still in control.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha, “In The Company of The Wise”, page 190
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all,
then accept it and live up to it.”
After Guruji returned to India in 1980, I met and learned from many other teachers. Beginning in 1987, I was especially attracted to the devotional path of Amritanandamayi (Ammachi) of calling and crying to the Divine, and for seven years I attended many of her US darshans and regular programs at her San Ramon ashram. (See https://sillysutras.com/other-teachers-mata-amritanandamayi-ammachi-rons-memoirs/)
But while drawn to Ammachi’s devotional path, I continued meeting other spiritual teachers. Through my interest in Ammachi, I met Shri Vijayeshwari Devi another memorable Indian female teacher known as Amma Shri Karunamayi who like Ammachi is revered by some devotees as an avatar or embodiment of divine mother. I met Karunamayi under surprising circumstances which ended my relationship with Ammachi and sparked an important new transformative life phase of increasing reliance on inner rather than outer authority. (see e.g. my essay “I’ve Found A Faith-Based Life”)
Learning of Amma Shri Karunamayi.
In 1995, my trusted friend Richard Schiffman – a talented spiritual poet, author and mainstream journalist – who I had met at an Ammachi program in New Mexico after he had lived many years in India – told me by phone that Amma Shri Karunamayi a female Indian spiritual teacher considered a Divine Mother avatar had recently visited New York and other US areas for the first time. He said that many Ammachi New York devotees had been greatly impressed by Karunamayi, and that some wanted to help her organize future US tours. From Richard’s description of Karunamayi, I felt a strong desire to see her, so I asked Richard to keep me informed of her schedule.
Synchronistically, just after Richard told me about Karunamayi, I received two letters from friends in India, telling how they had just spent a month with Karunamayi in Bangalore. They said she is “quite special [and] incredibly gentle and soft and radiates a beautiful and loving presence”, and that “many miraculous stories [are] attributed to her”. They recounted some of those stories, and reported that because Karunamayi was college educated with a focus on meditation (and not hugging) she attracted some more sophisticated devotees than the devotionally adoring people often attracted to Ammachi.
In March 1996, I again received a synchronistic phone call concerning Karunamayi, this time from another spiritual friend, who – like Richard and my friends in India – was also an Ammachi follower. Until then I was unaware that she knew of Karunamayi. So I was quite surprised when my friend asked if I could suggest some Bay Area place where Karunamayi and her entourage could stay in a few months during their first Bay Area visit. Only then did my friend disclose that she had met Karunamayi in Seattle in 1995 where she had offered to host Karunamayi’s first Bay Area visit in 1996.
Also, my friend credibly explained that Ammachi’s New York devotees had received an ‘edict’ from Ammachi – which I later confirmed – against helping or seeing Karunamayi; that she had changed her mind about hosting Karunamayi based on “personal considerations”, and because she felt disharmony with Karunamayi’s national organizers who were aggressively putting undue time pressure on her.
With compassion for my friend’s dilemma, and motivated by a sense of injustice about Ammachi’s ‘edict’ against Karunamayi, I offered to make inquiries about possible San Francisco places where Karunamayi’s entourage could reside and give public programs. But, I explained that since I was living a reclusive life in a small apartment I could not offer to personally host Karunamayi’s large entourage.
Thereupon, my friend called the national organizers for Karunamayi, “resigned” as Bay Area sponsor, and gave them my phone number as a San Francisco contact who might look for appropriate venues. Without consulting me, the Karunamayi national organizers then “conscripted” my services by distributing national flyers with my phone number as their San Francisco organizer.
Despite my displeasure with that involuntary “conscription” as a Karunamayi organizer, I did not – like my friend – tell the national organizers to ‘take me out of the loop’. My sense of compassion and justice inhibited me from leaving Karunamayi without help in the Bay Area. So I decided to help Karunamayi while seeking others who would replace me as Bay Area organizer. Thereupon my daily regime of solitary meditation and prayer and walking in Nature was significantly changed as I made and received phone calls, wrote letters and inspected possible darshan halls.
Though I never located a replacement Karunamayi sponsor, I found several friends who agreed to help. A recently widowed friend who lived alone in a very large Presidio Heights residence agreed to house Karunamayi’s entourage, and to allow morning public gatherings there. Another friend agreed to answer all telephone inquiries about Karunamayi’s schedule. And my dear friend Bina Chaudhuri – widow of Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri, with whom she had co-founded the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and the Cultural Integration Fellowship (CIF) – arranged for Karunamayi’s evening programs to be held in the lovely CIF main hall.
As Karunamayi’s first San Francisco sponsor, I was privileged to have various private discussions with her. I learned that like Ammachi Shri Vijayeshwari Devi had no lineage or guru, but that her mother had been a devotee of Shri Ramana Maharshi, who was told by Ramana when pregnant that she would give birth to Devi [“the Mother”]. Just short of college graduation, Karunamayi had retreated to a remote forest where she spent ten years in solitary rigorous practice. Like Guruji, and consistent with her extraordinary early sadhana, Karunamayi’s emphasis was on meditation. Her presence evoked for me moods more meditative than devotional, and inspired my poetry about silence. (see e.g. https://sillysutras.com/in-silence-sweet/) Like Guruji she apparently perceived my subtle auric field. Most memorably she once told me that: “Dhyanyogi has greatly helped you in ways you can not yet know.”
She did not insist that devotees have only one guru.
Once as I was driving Karunamayi and Swami Vijashwarananda – her cousin and Telugu/English interpreter – to the beautiful Marin County Vedanta retreat center, the Swami asked: “Mother wants to know what you eat?” In response I told him: “I eat mainly raw fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and rice and beans.” Whereupon the Swami interpreted my words for Karunamayi, who laughed and replied in Telugu. Then Swami said to me: ”Mother says you’ve eaten like that for many lifetimes.”
Unlike Ammachi, Karunamayi repeatedly encouraged devotees to seek company of other spiritual teachers, as well as to meditate regularly.
The “last straw” with Ammachi.
All my helper friends – like me – were Ammachi followers, but none of us felt conflict with Ammachi since Karunamayi’s San Francisco visit was scheduled for August when Ammachi would not be here. Though my sense of fairness was severely shaken by Ammachi’s New York ‘edict’ against Karunamayi, for a while I suppressed those feelings, along with my long suppressed concerns about a commercialized cult of personality around Ammachi, and the Mother Meera book burning incident. So at first that edict did not quite become “the last straw” in ending my faith in Ammachi.
That happened only after I learned of defamatory gossip and rumors about Karunamayi attributable to the Ammachi organization. Especially after I had met and was blessed by Karunamayi, and was experientially convinced of her authenticity as a spiritual master, I became deeply offended by these false and scandalous rumors, and motivated to help her as an ‘anti-defamation’ attorney.
For many years one of my daily Hindu practices from Guruji was recitation of the Hanuman Chalisa – a poetic ode to the legendary monkey-god Hanuman by poet-saint and philosopher Tulsidas. Though when I met Karunamayi my daily Chalisa practice had lapsed, Karunamayi saw the Hanuman Chalisa in my subtle field and, during a ceremony atop sacred Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, she spontaneously asked me to recite it as part of the ceremony.
Serendipitously, I had just received by mail from my friends in India a beautiful printed version of the Hanuman Chalisa. In a letter to them acknowledging that gift, I wrote:
“Slanderous rumors about Karunamayi originating at the ‘Kerala cuckoo compound’ have strongly activated my justice vasanas [propensities].” — so I wish to — “help as Her self-appointed anti-defamation lawyer. The Chalisa venerates Hanumanji as ‘the protector of saints and sages’, and after many years of recitations, I’ve assimilated some of that energy.”
So, despite my gratitude for the many devotional blessings I had received in Ammachi’s presence, after several years of growing but suppressed concerns about an ‘adulation of the incarnate’ rather than ‘adoration of the Infinite’ atmosphere around her, and about my diminished energy at her satsangs, my realization of Ammachi’s apparent jealousy and competition toward Karunamayi, Mother Meera and other teachers proved “the last straw” in my relationship with her.
Moreover, this realization traumatically brought to my consciousness the long-suppressed awareness that naively and mistakenly I had been projecting perfection onto Ammachi, rather than seeing her as a limited human being; that in adulating Ammachi I was misperceiving my own best qualities. This sudden ‘perfection projection realization’ triggered an important new transformative life phase of increasing reliance on inner rather than outer authority, which I will recount in other memoirs chapters.
For many years I have been reluctant to publicly share my disaffection with Ammachi and her organization. I did not wish to discourage other devotees with different perspectives, some of whom are friends. But I now feel morally impelled to share my observations which support credibility of a recently published critical book about Ammachi, by Gail Tredwell (aka “Gayatri” or “Swamini Amritaprana”), who for twenty years was Ammachi’s revered personal attendant, and first and closest Western female devotee. Her memoir entitled “Holy Hell, A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness” contains many shocking but credible revelations, including reference to Ammachi’s ‘edict’ against Karunamayi (at pages 264-266).
Unable truthfully to attack the credibility of Gail’s memoir about Ammachi, the MA Centers organization has attacked Gail’s character by asserting that she is “a troubled individual” whose writings are “completely untrue and without a basis in fact or reality”, and by instigating and publishing false and defamatory rumors and on-line blog posts about her, while asserting meritless libel claims to intimidate others against commenting on or republishing Gail’s sincere perspectives.
Since I am quite convinced that Gail’s memoirs are true and sincere, I find deeply disrespectful and offensive such an ad hominem attack on her by those to whom she selflessly dedicated much of her adult life. Just as I felt impelled to assist Karunamayi against defamatory rumors, I now feel dharmically impelled to support Gail’s credibility.
* In further memoirs I will tell how – like some other Westerners without any guru tradition – I was naive about Ammachi and other limited or flawed Eastern teachers onto whom I mistakenly projected purported perfection and infallibility, rather than seeing them as limited humans though perhaps further evolved in spiritual awareness. And, I will recount how while faithfully revering my beloved Guruji, and while remaining grateful for blessings received from all my spiritual teachers – including Ammachi – I more and more began relying on inner rather than outer authority; and how whimsically I told friends that I had been transformed from “Born-again Hindu” to “Uncertain Undo”; from Gurubhai to ‘Guru bye bye’.
To karmically repay those few teachers I’ve forsaken in this life, in my next incarnation I may become an insurance underwriter/salesman specializing in custom coverage for spiritual teachers called: “Perfection projection protection”.
“Even avatars have to desire to be in God in every moment.
And when avatars die, they desire with all their being to be united with God. …..Look at Ramakrishna. How much he wept and prayed for the Divine Mother.”
~ Mother Meera to Andrew Harvey, “Hidden Journey”, Page 236
“’The visions that come from the Divine change you.
A real vision brings adoration of the Divine,
and in that adoration there can be no vanity. “
~ Mother Meera
“When you know that you are eternal,
you can play your true role in time.
When you know you are divine
you can become completely human.”
~ Mother Meera
After Guruji returned to India in 1980, I remained open to learning from other spiritual teachers. From my experience with Guruji, I had learned that ‘sitting at the feet of a master’ can be quite auspicious. Thus though Guruji encouraged initiates to follow only his Kundalini Maha Yoga path, he didn’t discourage us from seeing other teachers. Once he told my friend Joy Massa, “I’ve learned from many teachers, why shouldn’t you.” So after meeting Guruji I met and learned from many other teachers.
Beginning in 1987, I was especially attracted to the devotional path of Amritanandamayi (Ammachi) of calling and crying to the Divine, and for seven years I attended many of her US darshans and regular programs at her San Ramon ashram. (See https://sillysutras.com/other-teachers-mata-amritanandamayi-ammachi-rons-memoirs/) But while drawn to Ammachi’s devotional path, I continued meeting other spiritual teachers. One of the most memorable was Mother Meera.
Learning of Mother Meera.
In 1991 I listened on New Dimensions radio to Andrew Harvey, masterfully interviewed about his spiritual teacher, Mother Meera, by my friend Michael Toms. I learned that Mother Meera was a young Indian woman who Harvey convincingly portrayed as an alleged avatar of Divine Mother channeling Divine Light (Paramatman). So I became quite curious about Mother Meera, and read “Hidden Journey, A Spiritual Awakening”, Harvey’s book eloquently describing her. Also, at that time a trusted spiritual friend told me of his very profound inner experiences with Mother Meera, which enhanced my interest in her.
Then, in January, 1992, just after my retirement as a San Francisco litigation attorney, I journeyed to India to pay respects to my then one hundred fourteen year old beloved Guruji, Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas, and thereafter to visit my daughter Jessica who – then known as “Yogini” – was living an ascetic life on Ammachi’s ashram in Kerala.
While I visited Ammachi’s ashram, my curiosity about Mother Meera was heightened. I learned that Ammachi had dramatically required that all ashram library books about Mother Meera be removed and burned. So I wondered whether Ammachi regarded Mother Meera as a false ‘avatar’? Also, whether Ammachi was competitive with Mother Meera and other spiritual teachers and, if so, why? (* See footnote)
Meeting Mother Meera.
Later in 1992, on returning from India, I decided to journey to Italy to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, with whom I long felt deep inner rapport. On learning that Mother Meera had moved from India to Germany where she gave darshans at a small town near Frankfort, I decided to fly to Europe via Frankfort, and scheduled several days in Germany before flying to Italy.
So, in July, 1992, I traveled to Thalheim, Germany, where I had three powerful evening darshans with Mother Meera unlike any others I had experienced. In an atmosphere of total silence she blessed each devotee, one by one, with a seemingly unchanging expression. As each devotee would kneel before her in complete silence, she gently held their head in her hands for a few moments. Then, as instructed, each devotee sat up as she gazed into their eyes. We were told that during this ritual Mother Meera was clearing blocks and sharing divine light.
On the first of three nights, while awaiting my turn to approach Mother Meera, I started spontaneously crying and swaying. Whereupon her companion Adilakshmi asked me to be still. (Apparently, she didn’t want me to disturb the silent meditators.) As I awaited my darshan turn, it felt to me as if a gigantic Divine Presence was channelling light through an earthly female form, wherein no one was ‘at home’. I didn’t perceive any heavenly light shows, but I did experience a tremendous and almost palpable yet extraordinarily subtle energy unlike any other I could remember. So much energy was being radiated from her eyes that at times I distinctly felt her eyelids move, even when I was seated at the back of the darshan room filled with up to 200 other people.
Especially on the third night, on gazing into Mother Meera’s eyes, I felt as if I had received an immense blessing, but I have no words to describe it. Friends in the audience reported that the energy in the entire room seemed to change while she blessed me that night.
Outwardly Mother Meera’s darshans were very different from Ammachi’s darshans. There was not a single word or sound or smile that I perceived from her during the entire visit. Unlike Ammachi, Mother Meera didn’t overtly seem to encourage devotees to fall in love with her form. Everyone – including Andrew Harvey, who was there that weekend – seemed to get the same impersonal expression and the same darshan time.
Although I was extremely grateful for the blessing of my darshans with Mother Meera, I did not feel devotionally drawn to her as had happened with Ammachi.
Back To Ammachi.
I planned my 1992 pilgrimage to Assisi to coincide with Ammachi’s world tour appearance there. So after seeing Mother Meera in Germany I traveled to Assisi where – as well as communing with beloved Saint Francis – I attended two Ammachi darshans. (See https://sillysutras.com/pilgrimage-to-assisi-communing-with-saint-francis-rons-memoirs/) Also, I was able to briefly see my daughter Jessica who was traveling in Ammachi’s entourage.
In contrast to the silent Mother Meera satsangs attended by no more than two hundred people, there were up to fifteen hundred people attending Ammachi’s Assisi programs, with a carnival-like atmosphere that troubled me, and I was told there were even bigger crowds in France. Also, I learned to my distress that in preparing the large Assisi spiritual venue for Ammachi some of her devotees had covered up pictures of other spiritual teachers which were on permanent display there.
Nonetheless, I had blissful experiences during the Ammachi darshans, where spontaneously I sang, and swayed, and cried to the Divine. During those darshans Jessica/“Yogini” was seated next to Ammachi – happily handing her flowers. Afterwards Jessica reported to me that one day Ammachi had pointed at me singing, swaying and crying, saying: “Ananda!”
Despite my mounting concerns about a growing atmosphere around Ammachi of adulation of the incarnate rather than adoration of the Infinite, I still felt much more resonant with Ammachi’s devotional path than with the austere silence of Mother Meera’s darshans. So – though gratefully I honored and respected Mother Meera – I never again attended her darshans, but continued seeing Ammachi.
*Ultimately, in 1995-6, I learned that Ammachi was competitive with Mother Meera and other teachers in a manner which was contrary to teachings of Guruji, Ramakrishna, and other teachers I respected. The “last straw” incident which sparked my realization of Ammachi’s competitiveness traumatically ended my faith in her as a teacher. It involved another acclaimed Indian Divine Mother avatar, Shri Amma Karunamayi and is confirmed in the recently published memoir of Gail Tredwell (aka “Gayatri” or “Swamini Amritaprana”), who for twenty years was Ammachi’s revered first and closest Western female devotee. (See “Holy Hell, A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness”, pp. 264-6 )
“Crying to God for five minutes is equal to one hour of meditation.”
“The state that we attain by calling and crying to God is equal to the bliss that the yogi experiences in samadhi.”
~ Mata Amritanandamayi (Ammachi)
“The fruits of the inner man begin only with the shedding of tears.
When you reach the place of tears,
then know that your spirit has come out from the prison of this world
and has set its foot upon the path that leads towards the new age.”
~ Saint Isaac of Nineveh
After receiving shaktipat from my venerable Hindu Guru, Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas (Guruji), I entered a new life phase as a devotional “born-again Hindu”, and for many years thereafter I faithfully followed Guruji’s kundalini maha yoga practices. But, especially after Guruji returned to India in 1980, I synchronistically met and spent memorable time with other spiritual teachers, in addition to Guruji’s successor, Shri Anandi Ma, while always maintaining my heartfelt inner relationship with Guruji – above all other teachers.
So in writing these memoirs, as requested by Guruji, it is appropriate that I tell you about some of these other teachers.
Elsewhere I have described my 1982 India pilgrimage experiences, including my darshan with Sathya Sai Baba. I told how Sai Baba hit my head three times uttering ”Enough!” ”Enough!” ”Enough!” while I was crying uncontrollably; that I was left in a state of confusion about my pronounced devotional crying tendencies. (see https://sillysutras.com/darshan-of-sathya-sai-baba-rons-memoirs/)
My confusion about crying for God lingered until it was memorably dispelled years later during darshan of another well known spiritual personality – Mata Amritanandamayi or Ammachi – now known for hugging millions of people worldwide.
Here’s what happened.
Crying Darshan With Mata Amritanandamayi [Ammachi].
After returning from the 1982 India pilgrimage I occasionally meditated at the San Francisco Sai Baba Center. Early in 1987 Timothy Conway, a friend and former president of that center, called asking if I would host at my apartment a program about an Indian woman spiritual teacher, Amritanandamayi or Ammachi, who was then largely unknown in the US. He explained that Ammachi would soon be making her first US visit, and that a small group of her devotees from India were seeking a San Francisco venue for an advance promotional program about her; that as a favor to them he was calling me since Sai Baba Center rules precluded holding the program there.
At that time I was living in semi-seclusion and had hosted no large gatherings in the seven year period since Guruji left my apartment. Guruji was eternally enshrined in my heart, but I remained open to learning from other spiritual teachers. So I hosted at my high-rise hermitage the first San Francisco public program about Amritanandamayi, at which some of her earliest devotees shared films and stories about Ammachi’s unusual history and devotional path. One of them, Neal Rosner (Nealu), Ammachi’s first Western male disciple, had just published a memoir which I acquired and read.
I learned then that Ammachi had been an abused child of an Indian fisherman’s large family in a remote and primitive village in Kerala; that after constantly calling and crying for the Divine, she had manifested many extraordinary spiritual tendencies and that, ultimately she had become a noteworthy trance channel displaying Krishna and Kali energies or moods (bhavas) to the enthrallment of villagers and visitors, some of whom – with her encouragement – had begun considering her a saint or avatar.
Thereafter, on Ammachi’s arrival in the Bay area, I attended one of her first public darshans at which I unforgettably learned about her devotional path of crying for God. Unknowingly I had been following that path since my spiritual awakening. (see https://sillysutras.com/kundalini-crying-for-god-and-other-kriyas-rons-memoirs/ )
By that time I’d become a spiritual friend of pundit Pravin Jani, father of Guruji’s successor Shri Anandi Ma. Pravinji had moved with his family from Bombay to Berkeley, and together we attended an Ammachi darshan at a small house in Oakland. On our arrival, the darshan room was filled with others and there was little remaining seating room. So we sat in a far corner of the room behind the elevated throne-like chair where Amma was receiving visitors with hugs and compassionately answering their spiritual questions.
As I sat in that warm spiritual ambience I experienced a heartfelt meditative state, and tears began trickling – not ‘torrentially’ but steadily. On observing Amma hugging each person who approached her, I felt content to sit and savor that devotional environment, with tears constantly seeping from my often closed eyes. But I was not inspired to go up up for a hug.
After so sitting for some time without intending to approach Amma, one of her attending swamis came and aroused me from my meditative state, quietly saying “Mother asks that you come up for darshan.” Respectfully, I complied with that request, anticipating a quick hug and, perhaps, some blessed fruit (“prasad”). But that is not what happened.
Instead, while lovingly embracing me in her arms and then in her lap, with my tears still seeping, Ammachi gave an extended discourse on the evolutionary importance of crying for God. (Her words spoken in Malayalam were translated by a swami.) After perhaps twenty minutes she concluded her talk referring to me still in her embrace, saying: “If you can cry like him, you’ve won the spiritual sweepstakes.”
The Path of Tears.
Dramatically encouraged by Ammachi, I never again doubted the immense blessing of my spontaneous devotional longing and crying for the Divine. And with curiosity sparked by Ammachi’s discourse, I later found similar teachings from other spiritual teachers in various traditions. (see https://sillysutras.com/the-emotion-devotion-crying-for-god/ ) Especially resonant were teachings of nineteenth century Indian holy man Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, with whom I had developed inner rapport after my unforgettable 1982 deja vu experience at his Dakshineswar residence place.
Ramakrisha, who had cried torrential tears for the Divine Mother, taught:
“[I]f you weep before the Lord, your tears wipe out the mind’s impurities of many births, and his grace immediately descends upon you. It is good to weep before the Lord.” – “Devotional practices are necessary only so long as tears of ecstasy do not flow at hearing the name of Hari. He needs no devotional practices whose heart is moved to tears at the mere mention of the name of Hari.”
After receiving shaktipat initiation from Guruji and the spiritual name “Rasik” – “One engrossed in devotion”, I had continuously kept yearning and often spontaneously calling and intensely weeping for the Divine. So, encouraged by Ammachi, Ramakrishna and others I was much attracted to Ammachi’s path of heartfelt singing and calling to the Divine, and was strongly motivated to see her again. And I did.
Years of tears with Ammachi.
For the next seven years after that first darshan I saw Ammachi during her bi-annual visits to the US and, in her absence, I often attended meditation programs at her nearby San Ramon ashram. Also, on my retirement, in February 1992 for several weeks I visited Ammachi’s Kerala, India ashram, since my daughter Jessica was then an ashram resident known as “Yogini”.
Though often I cried intensely for the Divine at Ammachi’s darshans, unlike most others there I usually was not motivated to receive her hugs. But in her presence I enjoyed marvelous devotional meditations, with tears, laughter, singing, and occasional spontaneous dancing to Amma’s bhajans. Thus through Ammachi I received bountiful blessings for which I am eternally grateful.
Prelude to a new life era.
At first I experienced an exceptionally powerful devotional ambience around Ammachi. And I was much moved by her soulful singing of bhajans calling to the Divine. However, my experience of devotional blessings around Ammachi and my enthusiasm for her darshans gradually diminished and eventually ended in distressing disillusionment.
After a while there seemed to be less and less pure heartfelt energy coming to me from her music and her presence. Ultimately it seemed that the music degenerated from being powerfully authentic to almost banal.
And as Ammachi attracted more and more followers, I perceived a growing cult of personality and materialistic atmosphere around her which greatly agitated and offended my pronounced egalitarian inclinations and aversions to spiritual organizations emphasizing “adulation of the incarnate” over “adoration of the Infinite”.
Also, though initially I always had felt energized by Ammachi’s darshan environment, after a while subtle energies there were more and more flowing from me, rather than to me. So, unlike my experience with Guruji, I was sometimes enervated rather than elevated after Ammachi darshans. This was especially noteworthy when I visited Ammachi’s Kerala ashram in 1992.
Moreover, I ultimately learned of private behaviors associated with or sanctioned by Ammachi which contradicted and belied her outer image and public pronouncements, and which so greatly disturbed me that I began regarding her as a flawed or false guru and not as a purported divine incarnation or avatar. (see Epilogue)
But like my traumatic marriage dissolution, the traumatic dissolution of my faith in Ammachi has proven to be a great disguised blessing which sparked an important new transformative life phase of reliance on inner rather than outer authority. (see e.g. my essay “I’ve Found A Faith-Based Life”)
Because I spent seven important years at Ammachi darshans I feel obliged to write about those years in fulfillment of my obligation to Shri Dhyanyogi, my beloved guru, who requested that I write and publish my spiritual memoirs.
Until now I have been reluctant to publicly share my distressing disaffection with Ammachi and her organization. I did not wish to discourage other devotees with different perspectives, some of whom are friends. But I now feel morally impelled to tell my truth, with the intention of helping others who might learn from my experience.
Moreover, I feel morally impelled to share elsewhere my observations which support credibility of a recently published critical book about Ammachi.
Gail Tredwell (aka “Gayatri” or “Swamini Amritaprana”), who for twenty years was Ammachi’s revered first and closest Western female devotee, has just published a memoir entitled “Holy Hell, A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness” containing many shocking but credible revelations.
Some of Gail’s revelations are consistent with my observations and corroborate an incident which was my “last straw” with Ammachi, to be explained in another memoirs chapter. Moreover, some of her credible revelations are so shocking that I feel they should be seriously considered by those who may be contemplating relationships with Ammachi and her organization, or with other hierarchical religious or spiritual organizations.
As a long-time former litigation attorney deeply dedicated to social justice and with skills in evaluating credibility of witnesses, I read Gail’s book, initiated extended phone conversations with her, and discussed her allegations with other yet anonymous witnesses. I have found Gail to be a sincere, honest and accurate percipient witness.
Nonetheless, the MA Centers organization has attacked Gail’s character by asserting that she is “a troubled individual” whose writings are “completely untrue and without a basis in fact or reality”. Since I am quite convinced that Gail’s memoirs are absolutely true, I find deeply offensive an ad hominem attack on her by those to whom she selflessly dedicated much of her adult life, and I feel dharmically impelled to support Gail’s credibility.
“Do you want deliverance from the bonds of the world?
Then weeping profusely, you will have to cry out from the bottom of your heart: Deliver me, Great Mother of the World, deliver me!….
When by the flood of your tears the inner and outer have fused into one, you will find her whom you sought with such anguish, nearer than the nearest, the very breath of life, the very core of every heart…”
~ Anandamayi Ma
“When the child refuses to be comforted by anything except the mother’s presence, she comes.
If you want to know God, you must be like the naughty baby who cries till the mother comes.”
~ Paramahansa Yogananda
‘Where does the strength of an aspirant lie? It is in his tears.
As a mother gives her consent to fulfill the desire of her importunately weeping child, so God vouchsafes to His weeping son whatever he is crying for”
~ Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa
Crying For God and other ‘Kundalini Kriyas’ ~ Ron’s Memoirs
My pivotal rebirth experience, sparked by divorce at age forty three, opened an emotional flood-gate which had been closed since childhood and unleashed for the first time in my adult life an intense and unprecedented torrent of tears. Thus, a ‘broken heart’ had opened my heart to a new life phase. And never again since that long-locked floodgate was opened have profuse tears failed to flow regularly.
Initially, with a newly a opened heart, I wondered why I was crying so much. Sadness at the divorce was not an adequate explanation for what was happening. But the puzzlement began resolving with my Yosemite epiphany.
At Yosemite, I beheld the unimaginably intense and otherworldly luminosity of “ten thousand suns” only after I had wept with extraordinarily spontaneous intensity, longing to be taken by God.
My tears then were not tears of sadness, but tears of intense longing to merge with that Light – and so to end the illusion of separation from it. I had beheld Divinity in that magnificent panorama of God’s cathedral, and with all my Heart intensely yearned to be merged with That.
This unforgettable experience gradually brought to consciousness a realization that my frequent crying was motivated not merely by worldly distress, but by an immensely deep and soulful longing for God.
But realizing why I was crying, raised a new mystery:
“How could it be that a secular lawyer who hadn’t cried or fervently prayed during his entire adult life, was now intensely crying for God?”
The Universe gradually provided answers to that question, through a series of extraordinary synchronistic events and experiences following the Yosemite experience.
After my 1978 shaktipat initiation by Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas (Guruji) into the Hindu tradition of kundalini maha yoga, I learned that “Kundalini is the cosmic power in individual bodies”; that when awakened it frequently manifests through spontaneous physical, mental, or emotional phenomena called kriyas; that kriyas automatically open subtle body energy channels (nadis), thereby purifying the nervous system and allowing evolutionary experience of ever subtler states of consciousness.
Also, I learned that in kundalini maha yoga my spontaneous torrents of tears – as well as many of my mystical experiences – were considered purification kriyas. And soon I further learned from repeated experiences that – beyond purification or catharsis – crying kriyas could also be manifestations of extreme joy or bliss, and even ecstasy.
Thus, Guruji has observed:
“Whenever one experiences great joy or bliss, this also manifests physically as crying or laughing. There are two kinds of kriyas, one is for purification and the other for the manifestation of joy.”
And I have been extraordinarily lucky enough to repeatedly experience both types of crying kriyas.
For many years I cried so often and so profusely that I came to realize – after initial puzzlement – that I was experiencing a great transformative blessing recognized not only in the Hindu tradition of kundalini yoga but also in various other devotional and mystical spiritual traditions, such as the Sufi tradition of Rumi and Hafiz, and the Catholic tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola, known as “the gift of tears”.
Though never a frequent flyer, I became – and for many years have remained – a very frequent (and sometimes protracted) crier. Tears have helped purify my psyche, body and nervous system permitting ‘peek experiences’ of higher states of consciousness, as well as many experiences of extreme ecstasy.
And until now I have regularly experienced numerous other non-crying kriyas – spontaneous and unpremeditated activities, feelings and sensations which have helped further my spiritual evolution and through which I have manifested extreme joy and gratitude for this blessed life.
For example, when not crying, I often had what I now call ‘alternative LSD’ experiences of spontaneous (and sometimes ecstatic) Laughing, Singing, and Dancing.
But of all my spiritual and synchronistic experiences, I continue to believe that the most fortunate was my 1978 synchronistic meeting with Guruji, whose benevolence has helped me ever since, even since he left his body in 1994.
In 1980, just before returning to India, Guruji resided in my San Francisco apartment. During that period, I once spontaneously exclaimed to him: “Guruji, the day I met you was the luckiest day of my life!” He responded, dispassionately and epigrammatically, “That’s true.”
And I still gratefully agree with that exclamation, and with his response.
“Birth and death are virtual, but Life is perpetual.”
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
“Birth and death are virtual, but Life is perpetual.”
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
My ‘Near Death’ Experience
A few years after the death of his father, the famous 20th century Indian sage Ramana Maharshi was suddenly overcome with a powerful premonition that he too was about to die. Though he was then only sixteen years old and in good health, he became so fearful of his imagined imminent death that he felt impelled to investigate the bodily death experience. So he pretended that he was dying and introspectively contemplated his own death experience. Long afterwards in response to a devotee’s question about his “enlightenment” he so recounted this experience:
“The shock of the fear of death made me at once introspective or ‘introverted’. I said to myself mentally, ‘Now that death is come, what does it mean? Who is it that is dying? This body dies’. ….The material body dies, but the Spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. I am therefore the deathless Spirit. … Fear of death vanished at once and for ever. The absorption in the Self has continued from that moment right up to now”.
“The shock of the fear of death made me at once introspective or ‘introverted’. I said to myself mentally, ‘Now that death is come, what does it mean? Who is it that is dying? This body dies’. ….The material body dies, but the Spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. I am therefore the deathless Spirit. … Fear of death vanished at once and for ever. The absorption in the Self has continued from that moment right up to now”.
In 1979 I too had an extraordinary presumed near death experience. Unlike Ramana Maharshi’s pretended death experience, I really believed I was dying of a stroke and decided to observe the death process without resistance. Unlike Maharshi’s experience, my supposed death experience didn’t result in my instant “enlightenment” or permanent absorption in the Self. But, it was an extraordinary and unforgettable event, and it spurred my gradual transformative process of more and more identifying with spirit rather than body/mind, which had begun in 1976 with my post-divorce realization and rebirth experience.
After I received shaktipat initiation from Dhyanyogi in 1978, I began following his practices. But, also, I continued to explore spiritual mysteries by attending various other programs and lectures, with Dhyanyogi’s approval. When asked about our seeking information from other teachers, Guruji would say it was OK but unnecessary.
My near death experience happened in late 1978 or 1979, the morning after I had attended an inspiring lecture and experiential program given by Sufi master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. At the program I whole heartedly participated in a Sufi remembrance of God ritual called Zikr, featuring repetition of names of Allah. Fervently repeating in unison with other participants: “La Ilaha Illallah” , “La Ilaha Illallah”, I vigorously rotated my body, head and neck, and became quite ‘high’ and rapturous.
The next morning I awakened feeling fine, and prepared to attend an important Federal Appeals Court hearing. I had put on my grey pinstriped suit trousers, shirt and tie, and was in the bathroom, when suddenly I collapsed and fell onto the tiled floor and into a supine position. On the floor I was unable to move my head or body up or over. Then I discovered that I could inch along on my back like a caterpillar. In that manner with tremendous difficulty, I managed to move out of the bathroom and into my carpeted living room floor, still in a supine position.
I was not then near a phone and couldn’t call for help. Lying on my back, without pain, I said to myself mentally, “I must have suffered a stroke and am about to die. Now I will see what happens when I die.”
I closed my eyes and went into a deep state of relaxed awareness.
Suddenly it seemed as if I was astrally projected into the cosmos, where I was surrounded by magnificent luminescent silver, blue and gold heavenly bodies like in pictures taken by the Hubble telescope. Next, my inner vision shifted from outer space to appearances of beautiful, luminescent and intricate mandalas – like those associated with Vajrayana Buddhism, only more ethereal. As silently I was sensing these celestial scenes, thought returned. First I thought that dying was quite an interesting experience. Then, suddenly, I thought: “I never took Naomi off my life insurance policies. I can’t die now.” The ethereal visions immediately ended and consciousness returned to my supine body on the carpeted floor.
I don’t remember how much time had passed before I so returned to body consciousness. But when that happened I found that I could move easier and managed to slither to a telephone when it rang. Synchronistically, it was a call from my friend Kusuma, who had been one of Guruji’s translators and cooks. I told her what happened, and she dispatched Stan, a disciple of Dhyanyogi then living in San Francisco, to come help me. By the time Stan arrived, I was able to crawl with difficulty to the front door to let him in. He called my doctor who said my symptoms sounded like extreme vertigo from an inner ear problem, not a stroke. Later, Kusuma asked Guruji about my symptoms. He told her that they came from “shakti”, intense spiritual energy activated in my head.
Following my ‘near death’ experience, the vertigo gradually abated. I developed a curiosity about Tibetan Buddhism, and the meaning of their mandalas, which lead to my receiving refuge, empowerments, and teachings from Kalu Rinpoche, a venerable Tibetan Buddhist master, and then from other Tibetan lamas, including H.H. the Dalai Lama – who became a living hero for me. Most importantly my conviction about immortality of the soul and my identification with spirit were immeasurably enhanced, while psychological fear of bodily death diminished.
But I didn’t become “enlightened” enough to transcend the lingering psychological trauma of my contentious divorce. So, long before my dizziness had disappeared, my former wife’s name was removed as a beneficiary on my life insurance policies. And I haven’t yet died – again.
After my near death experience I was quite surprised at how peaceful I felt when then facing supposed death, and began wondering whether I had transcended fear of death. That question was soon answered when a deranged young driver raced his car right at me as I was walking across Broadway, the busy four lane street where I live. Instinctively and reflexively I very loudly screamed “Jesus!” as I fearfully jumped out of the way. I shouted so loudly that I probably could have been heard for a block or two up the street. Thereafter for several hours, I experienced a “fight or flight” adrenaline rush. Moreover, since then I have had several similar though less intense precarious experiences while crossing San Francisco streets.
So, despite my serenity during the near death experience, some instinctive fear of bodily death remains for me. But I now distinguish such normal physical ‘fight or flight’ instinct for bodily self-preservation, from fear arising from ego’s illusionary self-identification with the body/mind and its story, rather than with universal spirit, its eternal Essence. And I accept inevitable – and perhaps imminent – physical death as a crucial condition of phenomenal life on this precious planet.
While yogis in other times and places could attain and maintain elevated states of awareness by taking refuge in the forests, on a mountain, or in a cave – or like Ramani Maharshi, in caves on a mountain, such stress free environments are hard to find for those living in present day US society. For me attempting to live authentically and sanely in our crazy culture has at times been quite challenging. I’ve found that in San Francisco courtrooms and environs midst societal insanity, without some ego I’d would have been metaphorically and actually run over while traversing my spiritual path as well as while crossing the streets. ….
Suzuki Shunryū, Roshi, who popularized Zen Buddhism in the United States, was once asked by a student: “How much “ego” do you need?” He replied: “Just enough so that you don’t step in front of a bus.”
So I wonder what past spiritual masters would have done when suddenly confronted with immediate bodily threat? Certainly they wouldn’t have shouted “Jesus”, with an adrenaline rush. Maybe, like Gandhi, they would have uttered “Ram” while stepping quietly out of harms way. What do you think?
© Ron Rattner – “From Secular Hebrew, to Born-Again Hindu, to Uncertain Undo – An ex-lawyer’s spiritual metamorphosis from Litigation to Meditation – and Beyond.”
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light from a single candle.”
~ St. Francis Of Assisi (The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi)
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi
“The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today”
~ St. Francis Of Assisi
On moving from Chicago to San Francisco in 1960, I knew virtually nothing about saints and was largely uninformed about religions other than Judaism. Even though Saint Francis of Assisi was patron saint of my new home town, I remained ignorant of his life story until after my profound spiritual opening in 1976.
Then, about two years before meeting my Guruji, Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas, I began having synchronistic inner and outer experiences concerning Saint Francis of Assisi, of whom I was previously ignorant. Because of those experiences I developed deep affinity with and great curiosity about this legendary saint, and regarded Saint Francis as an archetype to be emulated.
Soon I began and have ever since continued daily recitations of the “make me an instrument of Thy peace” prayer associated with him. But I was unable to satisfy my curiosity about Saint Francis until ten years after to my 1982 pilgrimage to India. Then on retirement from legal practice in 1992, I made pilgrimages to India and later to Italy to honor my beloved Guruji and ‘Francesco’.
In spring 1992, I journeyed to the Umbrian town of Assisi, Italy, where Saint Francis was born and resided for most of his inspiring life, and where I experienced an extraordinary feeling of déjà vu, like that experienced in India at the temple home of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa in 1982. My pilgrimage stay in Assisi and an excursion to Mount La Verna in Tuscany – where Francis became the first saint to receive the crucifixion stigmata of Christ – proved magical, There, with intense and tear-laden emotion of devotion, I was blessed with a few of the most memorable spiritual experiences of this lifetime, which I will hereafter recount.
Arrival at Assisi and Worshiping at Tomb of St. Francis.
I arrived at the Rome airport on a Spring evening in 1992. After sleeping that night at an airport hotel, the next morning I rented an auto and drove north toward Assisi. Instead of taking the fastest autostrada route, I elected a slower scenic route. After a few hours I came to a sign announcing that I was entering Assisi. Immediately after the sign there was a rightward road bend whereupon I beheld a vista of my intended destination – the beautiful Umbrian town of Assisi, where St. Francis was born and resided for most of his extraordinary life.
Almost immediately thereafter I was obliged to pull off the road, in a turnoff place.
I couldn’t drive further because I began crying spontaneously and intensely, with deep emotion sparked by a mysterious feeling of déjà vu that I had returned to a beloved and familiar place. Only after shedding many tears was I able to resume driving to my destination – the Ananda Spiritual Retreat Center in the Umbrian hills outside Assisi – where I stayed during my pilgrimage there.
The Ananda center had been founded by Swami Kriyananda, a prominent direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, who in Autobiography of a Yogi referred to St. Francis as an “apostle of humility”. So, it seemed an ideal place for me stay as a “born-again Hindu” devotee of St. Francis.
According to Swami Kriyananda:
”St. Francis of Assisi was Paramhansa Yogananda’s “patron saint.” Yogananda had at least two visions of St. Francis that he spoke of — one during a visit to Assisi, Italy in 1936, and another at Mt. Washington that inspired his beautiful poem, “God, God, God.” Yogananda admired the renunciation and simplicity of St. Francis.”
After sleeping my first night at the Ananda center, the next day I drove into Assisi. With continuing déjà vu I walked through medieval streets of that lovely town experiencing a sweet and mysteriously familiar ambience. Then I visited the giant Basilica of Saint Francis, under which the great saint is entombed. Near the crypt containing his remains there were continuing Masses being celebrated consecutively in various languages for pilgrims from places worldwide.
As a secular Jew transformed to “born-again Hindu”, who spoke only English, I had never before participated in a Catholic mass. However, irresistibly I attended several consecutive masses in various languages which I didn’t understand. But my heart knew the pervasive sweet and familiar ambience which I had experienced outside the Basilica, and which had become intense for me near Franceso’s tomb beneath the Basilica. And I was compellingly drawn to it.
Eight hundred years after Saint Francis had walked in that lovely Umbrian town it seemed for me that it was everywhere still pervaded by his sweet life-force shakti; with its emanation being especially intense at the site of his entombed remains. Afterwards I unforgettably experienced that same familiar life-force emanation at other Assisi shrine places.
Hereafter I will tell you about three more memorable experiences of communing with the spirit of St. Francis in Italy.
Discovering the Porziuncola
One of the most profound of those experiences happened as I visited a tiny frescoed chapel outside Assisi called by Francesco Porziuncola [“the little portion”]. He and his early followers had restored it from a ruined condition to become first home of the Franciscan order. And it was Francesco’s favorite place on earth.
Here, he lived, fervently prayed, wrote his rule, created his order of friars minor and consecrated his friend Clara (Chiara), who became Santa Clara, founder of a female order dedicated to Franciscan ideals of holiness and poverty. Francis so loved this little place that he chose to die there.
In 1216, Francis had a legendary vision in the little chapel. After fervent and tearful prayers, a light filled the chapel and he saw above the altar Christ, the Virgin Mary and a company of angels. They asked him what he wanted for the salvation of souls. In response Francis requested that all those who might enter the chapel and contritely repent their sins be granted a pardon and remission of all such sins. Whereupon Francis was told by the heavenly host that his request was granted.
Thus, the Porziuncola was thereafter Papally blessed with “The Pardon of Assisi” so that those who enter and repentantly pray there are pardoned of their sins, and it has been proclaimed a ‘world holy place’.
Having paid respects to Saint Francis at the basilica where he is entombed, my next pilgrimage destination was the Porziuncola. But I went there unprepared for what I saw. In reading biographies of the saint I had focussed on his simplicity and humility and somehow missed description of the giant basilica which had enveloped his beloved tiny headquarters chapel.
I didn’t realize until then that by Papal order, three hundred fifty years after Francis’ death, the great Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels) was erected over the simple Porziuncola chapel – Franceso’s “little portion” – and that all its original outbuildings were demolished, except the simple cell where Francis died. So I felt a bit bewildered on approaching and entering the grandiose basilica – so inconsistent with Francis simple life and message – and wondered what he might say about it.
But I found my way to the tiny chapel which was situated directly beneath the basilica cupola. And after waiting in line with others, I was able to enter and sit in the tiny and simple Porziuncola. With renewed déjà vu, I immediately experienced an almost palpable aura of the saint’s supernal love, and spontaneously cried deeply and intensely. I was so overcome with emotion that I lost track of time.
On regaining my senses, I realized with a guilty conscience that I had overstayed my time there, while other pilgrims waited in line for a chance to enter, and perhaps to repent and be absolved of their sins. So in a highly “enshakticated” [love intoxicated] condition I slowly got up and walked out. With continuing déjà vu I strolled to the place there where Francis died on October 3, 1226. Then, still in an altered state of awareness, I returned to the Ananda center after one of the most memorable experiences of this lifetime.
Memory of that exquisitely simple little chapel and its aura of supernal Love has remained enshrined in my heart ever since my one visit there. Although I have never since returned to that holy Assisi place, which Saint Francis named and loved, my cherished memory of the Porziuncola was revived following a surprising and synchronistic ‘holy encounter’ and discovery – almost thirty years later – of a San Francisco Porziuncola Nuova. Never have I thereafter entered that San Francisco holy place without experiencing supernal love and tear laden emotion of devotion as in my pilgrimage to the Assisi Porziuncola.
An Unforgettable Experience at the Church of San Damiano
Biographers of Saint Francis all agree that he had a transformative experience in an old and semi-abandoned church just below Assisi – the Church of San Damiano. There while he was enchantedly gazing at the painted wooden crucifix – a Byzantine image of the crucified Christ still alive on the cross – the silent voice of Jesus telepathically ‘spoke’ to Francesco, instructing him: “Francesco, Francesco, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” Thereafter, he devotedly began rebuilding San Damiano and other ruined churches, including the Porziuncola.
While repairing San Damiano, Francis often sang songs which spontaneously came to him. And he thereby attracted neighboring farmers and other visitors, presciently telling them that this ruined church would some day become a holy place attracting servants of God. And it did. As Francis predicted it was here that his friend Clara (Chiara), who became Santa Clara, founded Poor Ladies of San Damiano a female order and lived a cloistered life dedicated to Franciscan ideals of holiness and poverty.
Though Saint Francis took literally Jesus’ mystical message from the San Damiano crucifix, its true meaning proved metaphoric and profound. And by the end of his short lifespan, Saint Francis and his order had by their example inspired a renaissance of the Catholic Church from its then apparent corruption by worldly wealth.
Thus, as a pilgrim honoring Saint Francis, one of my most important planned destinations was the Church at San Damiano. At the Ananda Center I was urged to visit San Damiano for early morning mass then being celebrated by Franciscan Friars with beautiful ecclesiastic chanting. In following that advice, I was blessed with one of the most memorable and beautiful experiences of this lifetime.
Here is what happened.
My drive from the Ananda Center to San Damiano proved extraordinary. It was a sunny and beautiful spring morning, with azure blue sky and small white cumulous clouds. On turning off onto the quiet country road leading to my destination, the verdant landscape was ethereally beautiful – abounding with gorgeous blooming wild flowers. As I beheld this beauty it seemed as if I was enjoying a waking dream of being in heaven on earth. And again it invoked that sweet feeling of déjà vu which followed my first vista of the Assisi environs.
Thus, I arrived at the San Damiano chapel already in a somewhat ‘altered’ state of awareness, just as mass was about to begin. At the chapel portal I was surprised to see that the entire small sanctuary was already filled with people, and that I could not observe any remaining place to sit. So, as the chanting began, I stood at the chapel entry and began weeping with deep emotion of devotion. On observing me crying there, some compassionate worshippers squeezed together to make space for me to sit down.
Thereupon I sat down and continued crying with even greater emotional intensity. That is all I can remember of the mass.
Spontaneously, I went into a very deep state of meditation and lost all consciousness of what was happening. I don’t recall how long I was in that state. But when I awakened from it, there was not a soul in sight. I was seated all alone in the San Damiano chapel still in an ‘altered state of awareness’ and gazing at its painted wooden crucifix. * [see footnote].
Thereupon, a ‘silent voice’ from the crucifix telepathically said to me: “Ritorna a me!” – a message in Italian which I did not immediately understand.
For a while, my mind remained silent and my body remained still. When I finally reawakened to ‘normal’ body consciousness, I urgently needed to use a toilet. So I got up and left the chapel to find one.
But still there was not a soul in sight from whom I could get directions. So I wandered the empty corridors until soon seeing what appeared to be public rest rooms. But there were no signs with international gender symbols identifying them. Instead there were different Italian words on each door. But I couldn’t translate either of them. So, after momentary reflection, impelled by an urgent ‘call of Nature’ I entered what I guessed to be the men’s room. But I guessed wrong. Embarrassed, I made a quick exit, and used the other bathroom.
I left San Damiano wondering why God had addressed me in Italian, when I was so ignorant of that language that I couldn’t even find the men’s room.
Of course I soon learned – and will never forget – that “Ritorna a me!” meant “Return to me!” And I took it as a Divine message. Since then I have come to realize that, knowingly or unknowingly, every embodied human soul longs to return to its Divine Source. But that virtually all of us, including Ron, need frequent reminders of that eternal Truth.
Thus, I recall my extraordinary experience at San Damiano as such a reminder.
* This crucifix was an exact replica of the original crucifix worshipped by Saint Francis and Santa Clara, which for preservation had been previously removed to the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Assisi.
Excursion to Mount La Verna in Tuscany
Notwithstanding my marvelous experiences of Saint Francis in and around Assisi, there remained on my pilgrimage itinerary an important place outside Assisi, Mount La Verna in Tuscany – where Francis became the first saint to receive the crucifixion stigmata of Christ. And also there remained for me great curiosity and a desire to solve the mystery of why – as a secular Jewish lawyer ignorant of Christian saints – I had developed a deep inner rapport with and love for Saint Francis, even before I had met my beloved Hindu Guruji, Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas.
Before my midlife spiritual awakening, I had no inner visions and rarely remembered dreams. And even if I remembered them they were colorless and commonplace. But soon after my rebirth experience I had two repetitive extraordinary and mysterious visions or vivid dreams unlike any prior inner experience.
Twice, in semi-somnambulant states, I clearly perceived – like a slow motion ‘inner technicolor movie’ – a scene which I was viewing from a high aperture or window in a medieval building. * [see footnote]
I could not see any person at the aperture, but only experienced my consciousness being there and looking out. Below me were monks or friars clothed in simple robes or habits in a verdant open space midst trees surrounding the medieval structure from which ‘I’ was viewing them. Especially noteworthy was the extraordinary etherial light around that scene, which I immediately associated with Tuscany, the Italian state just North of Umbria, where I had visited in 1955.
So in 1992 I was anxious to visit Mount La Verna in Tuscany not only because Francis had his ultimate spiritual experience there, but also because of curiosity about those mysterious visions. However, because of my ignorance of the Italian language I was reluctant to journey alone from Umbria to La Verna. Then, synchronistically, a friendly multi-lingual Ananda center staff member familiar with La Verna and intermediate sites visited by Saint Francis compassionately offered to be my driver and tour guide for a full day’s excursion to those places.
The entire excursion proved a memorable experience in my already wonderful visit to Italy. With great interest, I saw various places known to Saint Francis. For example, we stopped at the town of Gubbio, where the saint is still venerated for legendarily confronting and taming a fierce wolf which was attacking townspeople and their livestock.
But for me our visit to the Mount Laverna sanctuary in the Tuscan Appenines proved the highpoint of our journey. Upon our arrival at La Verna, I immediately intuited – as we observed the grounds and structures there – that La Verna was the place in Tuscany which had appeared in my mysterious inner movie visions eighteen years earlier. Then, I meditated in a wooded area where, with renewed déjà vu, I again felt the supernally sweet presence of Saint Francis. As we departed from that lovely place, I felt great gratitude for our visit there, yet with continuing curiosity about the visions which had long preceded the visit.
Though I have ever since strongly felt that La Verna was the place which appeared in those early visions, their meaning remains an unsolved mystery. Perhaps in another lifetime I was at that place, when or after it was visited by Saint Francis. But I don’t know. And it’s probably not important that I know.
The Buddha taught that we should avert speculation which will not lead to edification. And speculation about imagined other life times can perhaps detract from fulfillment in this lifetime.
*I am describing these visions from memory, because I have not yet found any contemporaneous notes from over thirty years ago. After experiencing these visions I began regarding similar ‘inner movies’ as glimpses of other lifetimes.
My experiences of communion with Saint Francis of Assisi in places where he lovingly lived eight hundred years ago were memorably inspiring reminders of our human potential for humbly living a life of eternal love, even under difficult external circumstances. They strongly reinforced my continuing view of that great saint as an archetype to be emulated.
For an experience of the inspiring ambience bequeathed to us by Franceso’s life of love and humility, I highly recommend your viewing “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”, a 1972 film, masterfully directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Based on the life and legend of Saint Francis of Assisi, this two hour film is exceptionally beautiful and inspiring.
“There is no liquid like a tear from a lover’s eye.”
“Crying to God for five minutes is equal to one hour of meditation.”
“The state that we attain by calling and crying to God
is equal to the bliss that the yogi experiences in samadhi.”
~ Mata Amritanandamayi (Ammachi)
Tears are the solution
into Mother –
Mother of All,
Mother of Mystery.
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
In January and February 1982, four years after receiving shaktipat from my beloved Guruji, Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas, and with his approval, I journeyed on a wonderful spiritual pilgrimage to Japan and India led by Sant Keshadavadas, another Indian guru.
On embarking for India I wanted to learn about Indian spiritual culture and its many saintly beings, other than my beloved Guruji. And I was very curious about how I could best advance my quest for “enlightenment” – my spiritual “sadhana”.
During that marvelous guided pilgrimage tour I had numerous unforgettable spiritual experiences from which I learned much. Thus, the journey became and has remained the most important trip of my lifetime. So I am recounting some highlights in these memoirs.
At the time of our pilgrimage, one of the few living Indian gurus of whom I’d previously heard was Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who was the claimed reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, a legendary saint who had died in 1918. I synchronistically learned about Sai Baba shortly before our tour departure on meeting an ardent Swedish devotee, Carin, who was in San Francisco en route to seeing him India.
Carin said that Sai Baba was renowned for his extraordinary powers (siddhis)* [see footnote].And she recounted to me many amazing stories about Sai Baba – of miraculous materializations, healings, clairvoyance, bilocations, and alleged omniscience – including her own experience of his appearing to her in Sweden in a vivid vision and beckoning her to visit him in India. And I learned from Carin that Sai Baba had millions of devotees worldwide, even though he had never left India, except for one trip to Africa. So I became quite curious about Sai Baba and wished to but didn’t expect to see him in India.
Sai Baba usually resided at his main ashram at Puttaparthi, India, and our pilgrimage itinerary did not include any planned visit there. But Carin told me that Sai Baba had a large ashram in Bangalore at Whitefield, where he occasionally visited. Our tour was scheduled to be in Bangalore for three days. So on Carin’s departure for an extended stay at Puttaparthi, I gave her our tour itinerary and she promised to call me in case Sai Baba might visit his Whitefield ashram when we were in Bangalore. I didn’t think that would happen. But synchronistically it did.
Shortly after our tour group checked into the luxurious Hotel Ashoka in Bangalore, I received a phone call from Carin telling that Sai Baba would be giving public darshan at Whitefield the next Monday morning – when fortuitously we had open time. Carin promised to pick me up in a taxi very early Monday morning to assure our finding space at Whitefield, and she suggested that I bring any other interested tour members. Thereupon I arranged for my friends Ramdassi and Tara, and Tara’s friend Pat, and a few others to join us.
Before dawn on Monday, February 1, 1982, Carin arrived at our hotel as promised. And together with my friends and other tour companions we went by taxi to Whitefield for Sai Baba’s darshan. En route, Carin suggested that we ask Sai Baba for a private audience, since he sometimes granted such last minute requests to spiritual pilgrims.
I immediately agreed, hoping to ask Sai Baba how I could best advance my quest for “enlightenment” – my spiritual “sadhana”. So Ramdassi artistically wrote an audience request for me to show him, if possible.
Although Sai Baba didn’t later grant a private audience, I had with him one of the most memorable darshan experiences of my life. Here is what happened.
On arrival at the Whitefield ashram, we were guided to a large canopied outdoor area next to the ashram building. There, we awaited Sai Baba’s appearance with hundreds of others who were already sitting side by side in numerous rows. Women and men were seated separately. I was seated near the end of the men’s darshan area furthest from the portal through which the Swami would later appear.
Soon I went into a deep meditation and lost track of time. But even from that state, I was aroused and opened my eyes on sensing Sai Baba’s immense shakti field as he emerged from the ashram and entered the darshan area. With spontaneous emotion of devotion, I began weeping intensely.
Through my tears I could glimpse Sai Baba slowly walking up and down the aisles of aspirants. Though he looked at each person he did not stop at anyone – until ultimately he reached me.
Whereupon, Sai Baba stopped in front of me. With extraordinarily beautiful eyes he intently gazed at me as I was crying uncontrollably and wondering how to further my “sadhana”. Then he hit me on top of the head three consecutive times with his right hand, each time uttering only one word:
”Enough!” ”Enough!” ”Enough!”
With these hits on the head, I experienced a remarkable infusion of “shakti” energy.
Then Sai Baba soon left without stopping anywhere else. On his departure, I was left highly “enshakticated”, but in an unprecedented state of confusion.
It seemed that in exclaiming ”Enough!” ”Enough!” ”Enough!” Sai Baba had admonished me to stop crying. But that would have been completely inconsistent with my devotional path (bhakti) which strongly encourages and stresses the importance of crying for God.
Though my confusion about the meaning of Sai Baba’s darshan persisted for many years, I did not – and could not – stop weeping for God with emotion of devotion. And gradually I became confident that Sai Baba was not discouraging my gift of tears; that, rather, he was encouraging and blessing me to at long last ‘say sayanara to samsara’.
Since my unforgettable darshan with Sai Baba, the universe has given many messages and hints that Sai Baba’s exclamation
”Enough!” ”Enough!” ”Enough!”
was not an admonition to stop or limit spontaneous devotional crying.
The first of these messages happened later that same Monday in Bangalore. Our previously scheduled afternoon tour activities were cancelled at the last minute. So we were given unexpected free time. Thereupon my friends Ramdassi, Tara and Carin and I decided to visit the beautiful Bangalore temple of Shiva Bala Yogi, a reputedly powerful God Realized shaktipat guru who was previously unknown to us.
Fortuitously, on our arrival at his temple, Shiva Bala Yogi was there giving darshan – and even answering written questions from spiritual aspirants. So, still “enshakticated” from Sai Baba’s three hits on the head, I asked Shiva Bala Yogi the question I hadn’t been able to ask Sai Baba:
“What should I do for my sadhana?”
He replied, simply:
“Do what you are doing.”
And so I did.
Soon afterwards, I received another memorable message from Sai Baba. The next day, Tuesday, our tour departed Bangalore, which was in the center of India, and we flew westward to Mangalore near the Arabian Sea. There we were lodged at an oceanside beach resort. Awakening early Wednesday morning, I decided to jog on the beach before our scheduled activities for that day. Whereupon, I had an unforgettable reminder of Sathya Sai Baba and a possible hint about the meaning of his darshan.
While jogging by the ocean with a stilled mind, I suddenly perceived that I was surrounded and completely enfolded by the body of Sai Baba; that my entire physical body was totally enveloped by the subtle body of Sai Baba. Later I took that unique experience as a metaphoric reminder and symbolic portent that we are as but cells in the body of the Divine with which we will inevitably merge, after we’ve had “enough” worldly suffering.
* Patanjali’s renowned Yoga Sutras, describe yogic powers which may be attained through control of life-force energies. But Patanjali warns aspirants against premature use of of such powers prior to God union, as possibly raising egotistic obstacles to attainment of the spiritual goal. Only after being irrevocably established in God union may the yogi employ powers, without karmic consequences. Especially after Sai Baba’s death in 2011, his frequent display of siddhis became controversial, with various claims that they were sometimes not used for Divine purposes. Also, there were other allegations of questionable conduct.
Despite these allegations, I remain convinced that Sai Baba’s darshan blessed and helped me. In hitting me on the head three times he imparted a tremendous infusion of divine shakti; and his concurrent admonition ”Enough!” ”Enough!” ”Enough!” was probably a blessing helping me to use that precious life force energy to transcend all remaining worldly attachments with inevitable suffering of which I’d had “enough”.
**A month later, I asked Guruji the identical question, “What should I do for my sadhana?” Guruji answered it differently, but unforgettably. See https://sillysutras.com/a-long-but-short-guruji-satsang-story-rons-memoirs/