11 November 2011, an auspicious day here. Swami Veda returned. In addition to all the children and our big extended family, it was as if all of nature rose up to meet him. A little earlier, a conch-resounding procession went from the Shiva-lingam temple to the gate. Children were eagerly running alongside as word spread throughout the ashram that Swamiji’s car was near and he would arrive within minutes.
The word auspicious comes from the Latin and recalls the ancient Roman practice of divination by observing the signs from the birds. On the day of Swami Veda’s return, a friend remarked that she was sure she heard some birds chirping loudly “Veda! Veda!” during morning meditation. She said it was as if the birds were declaring “Swami Veda is coming! Swami Veda is coming!” She also felt they were saying He is The Veda.
We talked about how birds here sometimes seem to say things with sounds and gestures and that we hadn’t observed that before living here. Then she hurried away and returned with a book she was reading, JAYA: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik. The book is a work of art through and thorough. It begins by speaking of the chants from The Veda:
They were perhaps whispers of God, or maybe insights of the wise. They gave the world meaning and life a purpose. These chants relieved vedana, the yearning of the restless human soul, hence became collectively known as the Veda. Those who heard them first came to be known as the Rishis. (Pattanaik, p. xi)
When Swamiji arrived at the new gate, there were two new Ganeshes, one on either side of the gate. He bowed deeply, inwardly before them and blessed them. When you look at these Ganeshes, they are meditating. Look again and you see eyes wide open.
A few days before the return of Swami Veda Bharati, the shining sounds of priests filled the air. The sounds felt as if they had come from deep within the earth or the heart or one and the same. Two baby Ganeshes had arrived, and the chanting of mantras was breathing life into them. Murti is the Sanskrit word for a sacred image or statue. Its origin is the verb root mri which means die and reminds us what the Upanishads and Swami Rama told us so often--- that all things of this world were subject to change, death and decay.
The two murtis of Ganesh had been inanimate. Then the priests intoned the same prayers that had been uttered for thousands of years. The purpose was to establish the deity’s prana in the image. When this prana-pratishtha was complete, the murtis were considered alive with the presence of the deity.
On the other side of campus, two small groups had created mandalas to welcome Swamiji to the main building. Lela Pierce, Nalini Behari, and Yeh Shanju made beautiful floor designs at the entrance to the lift.
Nearby, a sarvatobhadra mandala graced the area in front of the white Buddha. Several people had, together, created this 2-diagram mandala and chakra: Jaya Prakash (“JP”) and Ravindra Bahugana of SRSG Press; Kavita, our Gurukulam student from Karnataka; and Manoj Kothiyal, a former Gurukulam student, now a fine hatha teacher. There was an 8-petalled lotus and above that a square grid wherein, it is said, 56 deities reside. According to Gudrun Buhnemann, chakra (circle or wheel) “can refer to a group of deities invoked into a mandala or yantra.” (“Mandalas and Yantras,” Encyclopedia of Hinduism, p. 573. (See THIS LINK for the complete text.)
The sarvatobhadra mandala/chakra is often a square grid. Sarvatobhadra has been translated variously. It can mean “auspicious from all sides” (“Mandalas and Yantras,” Encyclopedia of Hinduism, p. 565) or “guarded on all sides “(Alain Danielou: The Myths and Gods of India: the Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism). The Gautamiiya Tantra (30.102-108) describes the sarvatobhadra mandala as a mystic diagram that is “said to be the instrument of the fulfillment of all wishes, in the present and the future, in the visible and the invisible world.” (Danielou). Sarvatobhadra can also be translated as the welfare of everything. (Dr. Stoma Parker)
A few years ago, as Swami Veda was leaving SRSG for his several months trek, some of us were holding back sadness. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” he said. “I never go anywhere.” I guess if you had a bodiless body (i.e., awareness of being pure consciousness) and it was more real to you than the physical body you might say something like that.
It was last spring that Swami Veda had begun his most recent world tour and now he was back. He had had a heart attack in the Amsterdam airport. He had sat it out and continued his endless procession of love: if one could but count all the airports and whistle stops in this long journey, ever wending his way Home, always the home of the heart -- wherever he found himself. He had been talking to us for over 60 years. But now it was different. After several weeks of silence and rest, he gave a talk in Chicago, but in less than an hour of speaking, he needed oxygen. And now he was here. No one wanted him to talk. We were grateful and happy to see him. The same abundant outpouring of love was there, no matter.
Walking out into the fog of early morning on the way to Ma Ganga the following day, one friend remarked to the other “Did you feel that?” There was definitely something one could feel, almost touch, walking out through the gate between the two new Ganeshes. It was as if something holy and alive went through and with you out the gate, saying “keep me with you.”
(Pictures courtesy of Michelle Kinsey and Jay Prakash)