I had never met a swami and knew nothing of protocols in meeting one. It was Krishna Das, an attorney, who had invited me to lunch, saying he never took anyone to lunch, not business associates nor his wife. But Krishna Das had heard a voice in meditation, repeatedly say, “Tell Nancy about Vedanta.”
Krishna Das told me about two great Swamis and some books. I tried every bookstore to find the books, unsuccessfully. Somehow got the books months later. I had not realized there was a Hollywood bookstore next to the temple.
It’s all Grace
I went with a friend to Sacramento in the spring of 1987. Swami Shraddhananda first took us to the shrine and then to his tiny kitchen and sat the three of us around his tiny, magnificently tiny, table that was so small it was almost filled by all of the pill bottles he had pulled out.
Without another word, he proceeded to pick up each one and say the name. He was a cardiac patient, he said. I was a physician but this was not my field and I barely knew the drugs. I just listened as he named each one. What to do? What to make of this? It was most unusual, but clearly Swami Shraddhananda knew something, I knew not exactly what, but something, and that I may be the one who could unravel the answer.
Later as we walked around the Shiva garden and the Krishna Pond, soils that he had enriched and sculpted out of the hardest clay, He mentioned he had gained seven pounds, had not eaten any differently, had just seen his cardiologist who found no edema.
Obviously, he planted seeds that I couldn’t let go of but finally figured out, and told him to see his cardiologist immediately and get blood tests of the liver because he had right sided heart failure which causes no edema but fills the lungs with fluid. A lot of fluid. Seven pounds of fluid to be exact. It engorged the liver which is why liver tests are then abnormal. He was hospitalized for three months. I believe that is correct.
Sometime later, he came to Hollywood to speak, blessed my shrine, and I examined him for the weakness he was having. Took him for an EMG with the most renowned MD who had done at least 30,000 of them at UCLA and after. It was not muscle, but the cardiac problem.
After meeting Swami Shraddhananda, my friend and I flew to meet Swami Aseshananda in Portland. Swami Aseshananda said he would not initiate me until I received permission from the local Hollywood swami, Swami Swahananda, who granted it. I was awed by the austerity and amazingly I was granted initiation at that first visit.
Of course, after initiation, there were rare phone calls to Swami Aseshananda. It was impossible for me to remember a word he said, and later it became clear he didn’t understand one important request I had made about Kali, but words don’t matter. Spirit is the connection. During the rare visits, he would get calls from Europe, all over the world, and would leave the puja asana to take the calls.
Every day devotees who had permission to visit Portland and those who lived nearby including one tiny Thai devotee he refused to initiate, would sit afternoon and evenings in the anteroom after daily worships and meditation.
When I visited sightseeing was mandatory. I get carsick, timing had to be blazing fast, with no time to stop and see the site because we had to instantly turn back to prepare dinner, and then after eating, to sit in an overheated shrine trying to stay awake.
Once I arrived in a snowstorm and was picked up by a quiet monk, who drove back on the freeway in the fast lane along with many 18 wheelers. We suddenly spun in the ice across all the lanes into a ditch, uninjured. We were pulled out later by a busy tow truck and proceeded on our way to the temple. Swami Aseshananda’s trust in Mother was Absolute.
One fall I attended Durga puja. Despite failing health Swami Aseshananda cooked the pais. He never allowed anyone to cook for him. He then fed us Prasad. I later learned Swami was so blind he had no light perception. But he prepared specifically for each person, and knew who wanted fruit, who wanted candy. He would pick up each piece, call your name and hand it to you.
Of course, Swami Aseshananda was famous for his scolding of devotees. He invited me into the small library next to the room where everyone was sitting, and tore me apart. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t want anything to do with God after that. But days or weeks later, in a dream, he melted my heart. The Infinite Power works in mysterious ways.
His health continued to fail. Years later he finally consented to be taken to the ER where they did some tests and wanted to admit him but he refused. The RN who attended him had been looking for a Vedanta Center but until then didn’t know there was one in Portland. The Center was listed in telephone directory as Swami Aseshananda, I believe.
After his death, they found mountains of unopened checks in his room. He never returned to India. He never talked of anything but the Divine. Never.
During my visit to India so many senior monks asked, “Haven’t I seen you before?” Every morning for four weeks, after meditation and breakfast, we spent hours with Swami Atmastanandaji who later became president of the Order, having chai and prasad while we watched him dispense with all the mail and paperwork that came to him as head of the Ramakrishna Mission.
I had helped a friend from Hollywood Temple move back to Belur. She had known Atmasthanandaji for years in Gujarat. Sister Gargi joined us every day. And my friend introduced me to other swamis.
One swami, then retired, had been the primary swami in the main temple, and took me to the home of a very old woman who, as a young girl, had met Sarada Devi. This woman had recognized Sarada Devi as divine, and had spent years with Her, and had been granted samadhi. She suffered knee pain and I recommended medication that helped. She sweetly put my head in her lap, her hands were as soft as butter, petting my head. She invited me to meditate with her in the morning at her small shrine which had pictures on the wall of every one of the presidents of the Order. Her favorite was Swami Shraddhananda.