During the mid-1960s when my husband Jim and I were in our twenties and living in our home town of Portland, Oregon we were swept up in the spirit and experiences of those times. We were fascinated with the Big Questions: who am I, what is consciousness, what happens when we die, but did not really have the tools or language to express these ideas.
Then, in the late spring of 1967 an acquaintance suggested that if we wanted to know about God, we should read The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. This book was our first introduction to Ramakrishna and Holy Mother and Vedanta philosophy. That same acquaintance also told us there was a monk of the Ramakrishna Order here in Portland. Subsequently, Jim phoned Swami Aseshananda who told him to come right over, which Jim did. During that visit Swami told Jim to come again and to bring me with him. A few days later when we went together, Swami told us, quite firmly, that a serious pursuit of the spiritual path was arduous and that the old life would have to fall behind. We were up for it and from that point on for the next six to seven years our lives and activities were focused strictly on the Temple and Swami’s instructions. Jim and I took initiation from Swami Aseshananda sometime during the winter of 67/68.
I have been associated with the Vedanta Society of Portland since 1967. After those first very intense six to seven years both Jim and I were exhausted from our daily involvement at the Temple. Anyone who knew Swami Aseshananda will know what I mean by this. It was our time of spiritual boot camp. Jim’s degree was in fine art, and yet after meeting Swami he set that aside and obtained a job in the printing trade. He now wanted to leave that and go back to one of his many interests – building and restoring string musical instruments, which he did and made a career at. We had also just purchased a house that was a wreck and we had many desires about renovating the house, doing this, doing that, calling, as I say, our own shots. Nonetheless, we did not want in any way to end our relationship with Swami, and we had never wavered in our understanding and belief in Vedanta philosophy, or the life of Sri Ramakrishna. Swami agreed I would continue to do my various weekly cleaning duties at the Temple, which I have continued with to this day. The Portland Vedanta Temple with its shrine is my spiritual home.
Most compelling is the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. At times, when listening in particular to Sw. Saravapriyananda, or reading Nisargadatta I am bowled over by these ideas and the clear ways in which they both express them.
Most personally valuable in the teachings – to look within, the practice of meditation as instructed by my guru, to accept everything (the seemingly good and the bad), and certainly Mother’s advice not to see fault in others.
It’s impossible to know how my life might have developed had I not met Sw. Aseshananda and come under his influence. He gave both my husband and me the opportunity to practice constancy in our efforts, and he gave us a solid grounding for the path forward through life.
Of my friends outside of Vedanta, some are consumed with concern for all the problems facing the world today - the political, ecological, social, etc. They see nothing deeper than this and so their outlook is rather bleak. I see these problems as well and am concerned about them too, but at times I view them from a more detached viewpoint and can actually enjoy this supremely brilliant tragicomedy of the Divine Lila. Come Confusion, Come Delusion! Maya: It exits, It does not exist, It is indescribable! I have pondered the beauty of this statement ever since I first heard Sw. Aseshananda say it during a Thursday night class.
Further, as I will soon be entering my 80th year and have already lost my husband who died from cancer in 2016, I know my exit from the stage is coming. I look forward to this (although not without trepidation as to what I may have to endure beforehand) and pray, hope, that when the moment comes, Mother will take me on her knee and that All will be revealed.