We arrived at Ananda in the early afternoon. We were chatting with several people at the registration desk and one fellow invited us to a yoga class he would begin teaching shortly. We accepted his offer and told him we would just go to our room to put our bags down, then we would meet him in the yoga room.
When we entered the building in which our room was situated, we were astonished to find a group of about 50 people chanting with great energy, led by the most exuberant Swami I had ever seen. The group was chanting the 108 names of Shiva, and after each name Swami would exhalt, "Om Namah Shivaya!" I could hardly believe the devotion and joy pulsating in the room! Ambika and I set our bags down and joined in the chanting. Before we knew it, we were swept up in the energy and absorbed by Swami, who was chanting with incredible gusto and abandon. I felt like I had stepped aboard a ship sailing on an ocean of bhava, and Swami was the captain, intent on taking us with him into waters where love and freedom run deep.
Hearing Swami chant so whole-heartedly was the confirmation of an intuition with which I had been struggling. For many years I had been traveling to yoga centers in the West, and I had also spent time in ashrams and holy places in India. My general impression was that most sadhaks didn't really enjoy chanting God's names, they were chanting only because it was supposed to be good for them. I mean no disrespect, but most aspirants I met seemed convinced that kirtan was intended to be a somber event. One was supposed to sit and somewhat morosely chant. Laughing and dancing were out, and even smiling in delight seemed to be considered somehow sacrilegious. Amongst Westerners and Indians alike, chanting seemed to be a medicine that needed to be swallowed, but wasn't necessarily enjoyed.
This was very troubling to Ambika and me. When we would chant at home with our small community of devotees, we couldn't help but dance and carry on! Our little group would raise the roof and participants would experience God's darshan and life-changing epiphanies. Because of our exhuberance, we sometimes felt ourselves isolated from the other yoga and Hindu communities that we knew. At times I even wondered if there was something wrong with us. Perhaps, I thought, we are too silly, not serious enough. I really felt conflicted.
So imagine our joy at seeing Swami throwing his whole heart and soul into "Om Namah Shivaya." With his eyes blazing with joy and his devotion inspiring others to let loose, we found ourselves plunging into a new world of love and confirmation. We felt like two lost sheep who had just found their flock.
I also remember Shree Maa sitting regally, watching the chanting like a mother eagle seeing her young fly. She seemed so happy and proud of us. I know she was sitting on the same level as everyone else, but somehow I pictured her above us, her graceful gaze giving us her two great blessings -- shakti and shanti.
After the chanting was over, we ran into the fellow who was teaching yoga. He asked us why we never showed up for the class. What could I say? I mumbled an apology and tried to briefly explain that I had, at last, found something which I'd been looking for a long time.
The famous impresario Bill Graham said about the Grateful Dead: "They're not the best at what they do, they're the only ones who do what they do." Although he hasn't spent much time on a rock n' roll stage, I'd have to say the same holds true of our Swamiji. Not only can he boogie with the best, he can also inspire devotion in aspirants like no one else. I've had the good fortune of studying with spiritual teachers from several lineages, and I've spent time with some beautiful sadhus in India, but there is no one like our Swami. He's not even one-in-a-million, he's the only one. Om Namaha Shivaya!
P.S. It will take another essay to share how Swami blew my mind the first time I ever him dance! Go Back to Essays