Baba Muktananda – A Personal Experience
Just One Look
by Andrew Sharp
As I entered the room and sat down my mind stopped. The question I’d brought – something awkward and intellectual about love and whether it could be quantified, controlled or measured in some way – suddenly became irrelevant. Meeting his eyes, I was drawn inside myself to a place beyond questions and answers. I simply was.
A question – any question – had been the prerequisite of a private meeting with Swami Muktananda, or “Baba” as he was affectionately known to his devotees. He was regarded as one of India’s most prominent gurus, disciple of the renowned ascetic Bhagwan Nityananda, imbued with the power to bestow enlightenment in a mysterious process known as “shaktipat”. This was a spontaneous awakening of the seeker’s kundalini energy which countless numbers of Baba’s devotees claimed to have experienced.
They reported experiencing spectacular inner visions, bodily sensations and a range of temporary behavioural abnormalities, while some said they experienced no immediately discernible effect at all. It was claimed though that in all cases shaktipat would bring about profound improvements in the recipient’s life.
At the urging of various friends I’d taken the train to Melbourne specifically to meet Baba and discover if I too might be eligible for this boon. It wasn’t till I arrived that I learned that Baba transmitted it in a specially designed programme called a meditation “Intensive”, and one was to be held on the following weekend. However I’d already made plans back in Sydney for that weekend. In any case, participants were required to pay $120 for the experience, which was quite a large sum in 1978. It all sounded a bit too good to be true, not to mention expensive, so I dug my heels in and – to the undisguised horror of my friends – decided not to take the Intensive.
Naturally, though, I was worried that I just might be making a dreadful mistake, so I was relieved to discover that it was possible to have a private meeting or “darshan” with Baba, and that the only price for this was a question. I wasn’t expecting much; indeed I was deeply sceptical, but I figured I had nothing to lose, so I concocted some suitable question (nothing personal!) and requested a meeting.
I had some funny ideas in those days about Indian gurus. I’d read a couple of books on the subject and decided a guru must be a little like Santa Claus: someone who could take away my weakness, fill me with love and happiness and perhaps even invest me with a few superhuman powers of my own. Only one catch: I had to be “ready”.
No wonder I was scared! Striving after ideals I could never live up to, adrift in a world where I assumed everyone except me had “the answers” and secretly convinced such self-doubt was a virtue, I was a 25 year old completely disconnected from himself. Hardly surprising I’d chosen to become an actor.
At the public programme the night before, Baba spoke about attaining “the Self”. As long as I’d been aware, “self” was another word for “me”, so I couldn’t fathom why Baba would substitute such a word for “God”. However if indeed this thing was inside me, I couldn’t grasp where inside me it was supposed to be. Still, I at least found it encouraging when he told the audience: “You are all kings and queens, princes and princesses.” That appealed to the performer in me, and it felt good to imagine myself in such a role.
At another point he said “The Self is the greatest actor” and I thrilled to the notion that when I finally stumbled upon this Holy Grail, this so-called Self, I too would become a great actor. This was something I’d striven for all my working life, believing that professional fulfilment in the theatre was the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, the non plus ultra of life.
As I waited in the vestibule to be called into Baba’s presence, my head was swarming with conflict. Though I was fairly certain I wasn’t “ready” for “enlightenment”, I was hoping at the very least for a small dose of affection from the man.
A diminutive elderly Indian lady in a sari bustled past and stopped to ask enthusiastically “And what is your question?”
I was glad to try out my speech on her, but it took quite a long time to verbalise my question and as I rambled on, her face gradually settled into a look of resigned pity. When I finished she looked at me and sighed “Ah! The mind!” before walking off.
Her response constituted a major setback.
A great deal of trouble had been taken to cultivate this “mind” of mine: an expensive private school, university and psychotherapy (in that order!) Indeed I was grateful for these prized opportunities, because it seemed due to mental prowess that I had already enjoyed a reasonable amount of success in my field. It wasn’t just that I considered my mind to be my best friend, my trusty weapon of choice; I was fully convinced that my mind was me. No wonder this woman’s remark left me feeling totally rejected.
At that moment someone with a clipboard came to collect me – just like they do at auditions – and it was not with a lot of confidence that I entered the meeting room to be judged.
Spring sunshine was cascading through the floor length windows, spilling across the floor and glinting off a bowl of cellophane-wrapped sweets on the carpet. How pretty it looked!
He sat crossed-legged on a low seat, all in orange: knitted vest and a dhoti, a mohair beanie covering his bald head. He appeared older and frailer than he had at the programme, and his thick glasses made him seem slightly goggle-eyed. I was fractionally disappointed that he looked so… human. His translator knelt on the floor beside him.
The room was thick with an air of serenity and contentment, and suddenly, to my surprise, there was simply nothing to say or think or do. In the fullness of that moment, all needs were met. The last thing I wanted to do was talk at all, but already the translator was inviting me to put my question. I felt faintly sick as I cranked up the mind. Awkwardly maneuvering the words from my brain and out through my mouth was like shoveling coal through a hatch, defiling the pristine beauty of the room. In my tongue-tied state, the question became even more convoluted and longwinded than before, and seemed to be taking forever… but all the time I spoke my eyes remained locked with his.
He peered into me intently and as he did so his gaze seemed to be burning through all the veils I customarily hid behind. A light was being trained on my mendacity, my smallness and all my secret “sin”. I felt helpless and exposed but – the show must go on – soldiered on in spite of the near-certainty that at any moment he would laugh or, worse, sneer and turn away as the woman in the hallway had done. The dismissal would have been subtle of course; he’d probably try to conceal it, so I was searching his eyes for the first sign.
That’s when the miracle began to unfold.
His dark eyes did not falter. They stayed on me, or rather, in me, dark and glittering: and instead of judging me I began to see they were filled with a warmth such as I hadn’t seen since infancy. Yes, he saw me alright, saw right through my defences and my fears and into my secrets, but there was no hint of blame, nor, for that matter, praise. Instead there was delight, acceptance and, above all, respect. What was looking at me was Love, and Love responded. Tumbling helplessly into his visual embrace, I was home. He had shown me the Self.
Though the memory of this look has stayed with me for nearly thirty years, in reality it was all over in less than thirty seconds.
Rather too briskly (I thought) the translator translated my speech. Oh-oh! Wasn’t what I’d said worth repeating verbatim? Had she really got it right? I’d said much more than the single sentence she’d reduced it to. Then just as briefly he answered, and curtly she translated:
“Your love is your love.”
That was it. Five short words.
And, believe it or not, my first feeling was one of rejection. The peace I had just been feeling in that beneficent gaze was dispelled as if it had never been. The mind, that old “best friend”, AKA the ego, engulfed me once more, telling me I’d missed the boat, fallen short, was not eligible to be a member of this or any other desirable club. How the mind resists its overthrow!
Some small talk followed, some brief questions about my work, and I was out of there.
It was my last day in Melbourne and I had to collect my suitcase from a friend’s place in the city. The weather was warm so I decided to walk.
As I hurried along that Fitzroy street I started to think over what had happened, preparing to come to terms with my inner disappointment, and to launch into a string of “if only”’s, leading off with “If only I were someone else.” But then, when I went to play the usual negative tapes… I found nothing there. As if a piece of my brain had been removed, it was physically impossible to think negatively. Like when a cartoon character runs off the edge of a cliff and finds himself suspended in mid-air, or when you imagine one step too many at the top of a staircase, I was freefalling inside my head, and where previously there had been harmful painful thoughts there now existed a joy that had no cause, but felt as natural as life itself. My heart burst with happiness and soon I was flying down that street.
Baba Muktananda used to say experience must come first, and theory much later. It was by this method that he ran his ashrams.
When seekers arrived at his home in Ganeshpuri, India, they would not be encouraged to discuss or debate, nor would they be treated like guests in a hotel. Instead they would be instructed to wash dishes, sweep the courtyard, go and join in one of the many Sanskrit chants or sit in the meditation cave. Thus they would be plunged straight into the life of the ashram without being offered the comfort of any rational explanations. Analytical minds did not have the chance to resist a direct experience of the universal inner Self, and each person would have an experience of it which was unique to them, perfectly suited to their ability to digest it.
After a few days the elation I was feeling subsided and life returned more or less to normal. But not really: a seed had been planted and several years later I finally realised the full import of what had occurred. Why did the mood of that first day not last? Baba repeatedly encouraged his “students”, as he called his followers, to nurture the flame he ignited in them by doing their own spiritual practice: he exhorted us all to chant, to meditate, to selflessly serve others and in particular to “see God in each other.” He wanted us to take the experience he had shown us and make it our own, allowing it to grow in us until we became firmly established in it.
Baba was supremely independent, just as he described the Self as being, and he taught us to be the same. Eternal bliss has no cause, it just is.
I never met Muktananda again. In 1982 he passed away (or “took mahasamadhi”, as they say, because the death of such a profoundly conscious being is never an accident.) However, he made sure his work of spreading what he called his “Meditation Revolution” would be continued after he had gone by installing two successors, Swami Nityananda (“Gurudev”) and Swami Chidvilasananda (“Gurumayi”). Today each of them continues to promote Baba’s teachings in their own way.