HH Sri Swami Venkatesananda Maharaj
With great respect and love I welcome you all here today with all my heart.
In this plethora of life with its multitude of life forms on our delicate and intricate planet human birth is very rare. There are an estimated 1.3 sextillion copepod crustaceans in the oceans. Thats more than a trillion, more than a quintillion, more than a quadrillion individual life forms. Then there are the hundred trillion ants and all the different species in the oceans and on land. So a human birth is very rare and very precious. It is not easy to attain, we go through many life forms and many life times to accumulate the karmic credit required until eventually with enough merit we can finally take a human body. Not that being human automatically elevates us above other life forms, the trees for example are entirely unselfish, but human life is precious because it affords us the opportunity for self realisation.
The second rare and precious gem, having attained a human birth is a yearning for spiritual understanding. What is the meaning of all of this? Enquiry. Self Reflection. If the challenges of life can lead us towards that self enquiry rather than a tendency to project and blame and feel a victim. Why me? Why should I suffer? Turning life’s challenges into this enquiry: what is the nature of my experience in the world, is there a meaning to it all? This is also very rare and arises spontaneously in only a few through no identifiable cause or merit of our own. So having discovered this yearning, it should not be wasted.
The third and most precious of all gems is to find the loving grace of an enlightened teacher. My Guru, Swami Venkatesananda was one such teacher and today the second of December, is the thirty-fifth anniversary of his Mahasamahdi. Mahasamahdi occurs when an enlightened person leaves their body, steps of the wheel of karma. On the second of December 1982 I was a young man just out of conscripted military service. Having left the army base up in the north of Namibia I drove down to Johannesburg arriving on the same day that Swamiji landed for what would be his last visit to South Africa and stayed in the ashram there with one or two other of his disciples. We used to sit informally in the afternoons for tea before the crowded evening talks and he would chat with us and give us hints that he wasn’t going to be there for long, saying things like; “My work is finished, I am ready to go.” My reaction at the time was to protest; “No Swami, we need you, don’t go.” One of his other disciples, Swami Sushila had a more circumspect approach. She was more mature in her understanding and was with him right to the end but twelve hours before he dropped his body he sent me away. I had to go to Cape Town for an interview at the Australian embassy to come to this country where I planned to live in his ashram in Fremantle. He sent me away. I couldn’t be there. I was too attached to the physical form.
Do we need the physical form of the teacher to progress? Swami Nisreyasananda a Swami from the Ramakrishna lineage said; “Don’t be a Buddhist, be a Buddha.” Not to think of ourself as something special but not to be a follower. If that experience of realisation is possible for one it’s possible for all of us. Somanatha Maharishi, when we were with him in Hyderabad with people coming to see him all the time said one night to the crowd in front of him; “Don’t look at my face.” The person I was sitting next to asked me; “What did he mean?” I said to him. “He has given us already the teaching, now we must stop trying to get more from him, stop trying to draw form him. Go within.”
The teachings we are given are intended for our own realisation. Not that somebody else does the work then gives it to us, saying; “There you go, there’s a realisation package,” and we are there. They give us the technique. They give us the tools. They show us the way. They say; “It’s possible for a human being to walk this way, you walk the way too.” The rest of the party goes up to Gangotri. Can you gain the experience by staying back in Rishikesh? No, you have to walk the way yourself. Then you yourself get to the destination.
Does consciousness continue after the body is dropped? Is it possible that somehow my Swami lives in ethereal form in the room here and guides us? We’re not sure, we cant be certain. But one thing is sure. To the extent that we honour and respect and treasure and put into practice the teachings, to that extent the teacher and the teachings continue. Our task is to realise that clarity and understanding for ourselves. Just as the child is born of the mother and becomes a full complete person in her own right so too we as disciples of the truth should discover and then manifest that truth in our own lives.
Feel the majesty and grace of your incarnation, of your human body and its capacity for enquiry and self-realisation, dormant just as the mighty tree is dormant in the seed, the practices of yoga and meditation bringing it into fruition.