Port Townsend, Washington State
I am not your typical devotee; my life experience has been very rajasic. I am 70 years old and I am a householder devotee with 51 years of marital practice under my belt. A blue collar devotee, well-read yet uneducated by modern standard. I have built houses and barns, fished in Alaska for a living and lived on a remote Island in Alaska for 17 years where, with a large group of dissimilar people, we created a small town. I have lived where Vedanta is seldom if ever spoken, and yet Thakur's message was found to be so inspiring that I could never shake it. It became the standard by which I measure all things. The Gita is my testament and Thakur and Swamiji are my guides.
Hailing from the West Coast in Washington State, I grew up in a rural background seasonal where economies like fishing, logging and farming sustained the small communities . It was a rough- hewn lifestyle for the sons of Scandanavian immigrant. God seemed to be carefully confined to the white-steeples of the traditional Lutheran churches that dotted the landscape. I was raised in this Lutheran tradition. As I recall my first brush with Vedanta was How to Know God by Swami Prabhavananda; of course the title caught my attention, it sounded incredibly ambitious for such a small book. I had packed it to a retreat from another organization that was promoting Yoga powers and was encouraging me to begin an advanced regime. Of course the conflict between, Swami Prabhavanandaji's teachings on the Sutras was well timed for me to begin to question my path. This personal inquiry continued and I acquired a copy of the Gospel of Ramakrishna from a local library.
It should be noted that I was attracted to the Hindu/Vedantic values from the beginning even though I had no idea how to express them. From my first read of The Gospel of Ramakrishna had a strange effect on me, I could not get through the forward, I would read a few pages and the room would begin to spin, I tried this a few times and it was always the same. This book was something to me, but I did not know what. So I purchased a copy and began a personal study. I came to understand that there was an order of monks that sustained the values of Ramakrishna, overtime time Swami Nikhilananda's words began to influence me. But my mistaken interpretation had isolated me into believing that my position as a householder had somehow eliminated me from the spiritual quest. In retrospect it was a huge loss. By now, heeding the profound advice of Swami Prabhavananda, I had distanced myself from the quest for flying powers, but had not come to enough of an intellectual grounding to accept Thakur as a godhead. I felt adrift.
As a practical householder with two children, I once again chose a path that did not include seeking out Vedantic holy men, I had taken Ramakrishna too literally and learned too hard that some spirit filled places are not full of friendly spirits. It took a profound personal crisis for me to finally accept Ramakrishna as some sort of deity. This was a relationship built on challenges. Poor Thakur, he had adopted an ocean fisherman for a devotee who would provide Him with an endless set circumstances to be protected from. I have the faith of conviction, as I lived to tell about it.
By now, I was studying the Upanishads, Vivekananda's Yogas, the Gita and the Gospel of Ramakrishna during this period of my life. I was still isolated from any contact with the Ramakrishna movement. Another life event had me questioning some of my values and I sought out some counsel. When we got down to it, I started to describe the profound subtleties of nothing being real , being able to see vibration manifesting as tables and chairs , my hands trying to keep up with the subject at hand . I was challenged to seek professional help, which meant I was challenged to go to a Vedanta Center and lay out my self-entitled credentials and see what was being offered up.
So at 60 years old, I began my pilgrimage. Life had found me within a 50 mile radius of the Western Washington Vedanta Society, Seattle. Nervous as could be, a stranger in a strange land , I was taken to be in the presence of Swami Bhaskarananda , I had practicing for days how I would address these Holy men , I wanted to make an impression. Without thought, I became overwhelmed and blurted out "You’re the first Swami I have ever met!". "Yes", he confided back to me, "and you are the first Bert I have ever met". Cool, I had just confirmed to the monk destined to be my Guru that I was a true fool.
What luck, the sermon was on the Katha Upanishad, a story that I thought that I understood well. I am cautious of organized religion and I thought I would be able to test this group this way. Of course, I learned more in the 1 hour lecture than my 20 years of self-study had provided. I learned that I had been fooling myself. Swami Bhaskarananda was gentle with me, we were still doing the meeting dance. I was sizing up this orange garbed fellow as I am sure he was me.
I began to have positive experiences that encouraged me, Swami allowed for a place for me to stay for weekends in order to absorb the experience of an ashram life. In time I was initiated, and overtime my devotion has only deepened. I know that Swamiji has a little different way of running a center, it is very conducive for us householders. By now my life is spiritualizing in a way that knows no bounds. I would describe it as “One Big Yes”, I have lost all fear in some ways.
Now, at nearly 70, I feel like a child, Swami Bhaskaranandaji has opened the doors of Hinduism and Vedanta for me. This pandemic has allowed me an experience to isolate like a monk, Swamiji continues to encourage us with the Zoom meetings,. After nearly two year of being away from Swamiji's presence, being denied the benefit of our collective spirituality seems just too cruel. Absence is said to make the heart grow fonder, my heart feels like it could burst. Tears do express it. I have no idea how I will even react when I am unharnessed from this oppressive disease, but I am willing to just flow where Thakur's Grace Flows like a feather, ever so slowly, drifting towards the earth. Swamiji describes his abode as my spiritual home, and I believe this now with all of my heart.
I have never felt such a way in my life, what is an old man to do? My past experience tells me I should exert caution, my present mind hears "Keep Going , Keep Going " and as I rush through the jungle of life, my mouth wide open in awe, just trying to articulate an expression of: "Ma, Ma".
All Glory to the Great Guru that leads us to God