Eric ‘Arya’ Oddleifson
In 1988, living in Africa, I was bitten by a rhesus monkey. At the time, not much was known about HIV and doctors thought I might have contracted the virus. Fortunately, that did not happen, but this event irrevocably changed the course of my life and led to a lifelong pursuit of Truth leading to Vedanta.
Several years later, I was out walking the streets of San Francisco while visiting a friend. I remember turning a corner and looking up and seeing the emblem of the Ramakrishna Order. Intrigued I went into the bookstore and walked right over to the Gospel. I was dumbstruck with amazement that someone who lived in the presence of the Divine all the time walked this earth not long ago! I promptly purchased literally an armful of books and squirreled them away in my suitcase for my return trip to Boston. I devoured the Gospel like it was a page turner mystery novel then moved onto the complete works of Swami Vivekananda where I was introduced to the tradition of Vedanta.
For the next 15 years I visited and worshipped at temples around New England until one day in the fall of 2008 I ‘happened’ across a person who was a devotee at a local ashram in Cohasset MA, known as the Vedanta Centre. This friendly soul’s child attended the same pre-school and was visiting my house. She noticed a statue of Lord Krishna and asked my wife about it who directed her to where I was meditating in the basement in front of a large picture of Swami Vivekananda. That was the beginning of my formal practice and study.
I received dīkṣā from Reverend Mother Sudha Puri in the fall of 2008 and learned about the wonderful community Swami Paramananda, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, and the founding sisters built in Boston beginning in 1909. Following Reverend Mother Gayatri Devi, Reverend Mother Sudha Puri continues the work of teaching Vedanta from the platform on Sunday and Thursdays. Since that time, my interest in the teachings of Advaita Vedanta has only grown, along with studying the language of Vedanta, Sanskrit. With the love and support of my guru, I am now pursuing a Master Degree at Hindu University of American in Texts and Traditions.
For me, Advaita offers a comprehensive, affirming, holistic view of the relationship between jīva, Īśvara, sṛṣṭi, and Brahman, that elevates and energizes my whole being. Having grown up in western Abrahamic traditions that emphasize distance from the Divine and the need to overcome or compensate for an intrinsic corruption of my very being, Advaita offers the polar opposite message. Advaita teaches atman Brahman is not just the svarūpa of ‘I’, but is aparōkṣa, immediately apparent, and pūrṇa, complete fullness. All that is required is learning, usually slowly, to relinquish the identification of myself with the body, mind, senses. Although most likely a long process over many janmas, the awareness that my svarūpa is satyam jñānam anantam and sacchitananda and can be known through diligent practice of karma yoga as a gṛhastha while studying scripture, gives me tremendous hope for humanity. Despite all appearances to the contrary, there is a greater reality as unchanging being and unlimited awareness that ‘is’ all of us right now, just like all waves are on analysis nothing but the ocean, all beings are nothing but atman Brahman.
As the Chandogya Upanishad teaches ‘sarvaṃ khalvidaṃ brahma’, all this is Brahman. As I continue my studies and help teaching these concepts from the platform at the Vedanta Centre, I hope to, in a small way, contribute to others in realizing they are already all that they seek.
Om Tat Sat