Pamela Hoye (Jayanti)
San Diego, CA
“That’s my swami,” Margaret whispered as she wheeled me into a special meeting room. Our professor had invited a guest from something called “the Vedanta Society” to speak to students studying Indian Philosophy. I had become a religious studies major after this same professor assigned the Bhagavad Gita in an introductory level philosophy course. My first exposure to religious thought other than what I had found rather bland and meaningless in my own Christian upbringing, which had failed to affirm the ever-Presence that I knew as “God”, the Gita resonated deeply. Excited, curious, and with Huston Smith as my guide I spent my summer reading the major scriptures each tradition covered in The Religions of Man; returning in the fall to pursue a major in the Philosophy of Religion.
Margaret, I would learn, was part of a group of students attending Fresno State University who met regularly with Dr. Leta Lewis to … study? practice? I wasn’t sure. More importantly, I wasn’t wanting to “join”. I had recently withdrawn membership in the Methodist church, which many members saw as “abandoning my faith”. Yes, my great-grandfather had been a Methodist preacher, but my faith was in God. Finding myself basking in the vastness of spiritual ideas freed from institutional limitation, I had no desire to belong to any religious group then. I also needed to discover myself. Growing up disabled during a period when society focused on our limitations, the one thing I knew and trusted about myself was my relationship with the Divine.
Nonetheless, the principles of Vedanta that would stay with me. Benefitting from the disability rights movement of the 60s, I was able to move from my family home to see if I could make a life for myself with physical assistance from others with the things I could not do myself. I came to San Diego in 1976 “with Vedanta in my back pocket,” I would later say. About a decade later, when I had checked off everything on my mental bucket list, I found my accomplishments lacking: Surely, there had to be more.
Sensing my longing, friends showered me with a smorgasbord of spiritual books current in the 80s. Some resonated more than others, but one struck the necessary chord. Parabola had dedicated its tenth-year anniversary issue to “Wholeness”, exploring the importance of having a firm spiritual foundation established in experience. As I soaked in each article, I felt the gentle pull of Vedanta. Recalling my friends in college, I looked in the phonebook for the Vedanta Society. Perhaps part of Mother’s pian, a monastery had been established in San Diego just two years earlier. While my cultivated distrust of organized religion would persist for a time, I knew I had come home from the moment I attended my first class. Again, an unlikely accident, it was on Swamiji’s Jnana Yoga.
I was initiated by Swami Swahananda a year later, in 1987. A few years later I would learn that the swami who had visited my class in college had been Swami Shraddhananda. I would feel the blessing of both.
I am certain I am not alone in the discovery that “coming home” would mean having my life and everything I had come to understand about myself turned upside-down. Looking back on my years in Vedanta, I think Mother’s first objective with her newly claimed daughter was to erase my understanding of limitation. My life became “active” almost immediately, in ways I could have NEVER imagined. “Accept your limitations” was the refrain of experts in disability when I was growing up. The idea of “limit” shaped my approach to life in every aspect—except with respect to religion. I would accept no outside authority when it came to my relationship with God. Thus, when I came to Vedanta it seemed a perfect match. I imagined myself ready to renounce.
Yet, I had learned not to try certain things, and not to expect others, solely based on my disability. In contrast, Vedanta declares both disability and limitation irrelevant to who we are! I had a lifetime of unlearning ahead of me! The process has been one of unfoldment and growth, finding my strengths and courage, and becoming whole.
I’d like to think that that I have been thrown into the world wearing Vedanta-colored glasses, that I may see and embrace what really matters. My objective is to try to remain open to the opportunities and challenges Mother sends and to take the steps as they appear before me. In moments of uncertainty, it has helped to remember that I am named after the Divine Mother herself, Jayanti...”She who is all-conquering.” And that Mother is an abiding presence, as is her promise.