the Wing of My Guru
18, I was a dreamer ready for the romantic spiritual
path of my guru-to-be. I longed for study with an enlightened
master, such as the one described in Autobiography
of a Yogi by Swami Yogananda. This book I read and
re-read spellbound. I hoped that a formal training with
a guru would enable me to solidify my teenage experiments
with meditation and solve many typical adolescent problems,
such as immaturity and need for approval and love.
prayers are always answered. Our first American neighbor
turned out to be an Israeli woman who was a vegetarian
and who had practiced hatha yoga and meditation for
many years. Sarah was immediately attracted to my family
-- we reminded her of her parents and recent immigrants
she had seen in Israel. While my parents were suspicious
and cautious of her, I was immediately attracted to
her. She told me about meditation. Until that moment,
I have never heard the term and did not know that my
daily contemplative retreats into myself were a form
of meditation practice. On hearing the word meditation,
a shudder of recognition zipped through my body -- I
had goose bumps, and my hair quite literally stood on
its ends. Sarah introduced me to her teacher, who was
a disciple of my guru-to-be. Never underestimate the
Divine Providence in delivering the right neighbors...
had been practicing meditation as taught by Sarah's
teacher Steven for several months, when I began to feel
that my life had no meaning or purpose. With emotional
dramatics typical of adolescents I cried to God, imploring
the Universe: "My life has no meaning or purpose --
will you please fix it?" All true steps on the spiritual
path are taken from the point of desperation...
had reached an important crossroads on the spiritual
path, beyond which there was no return. When one starts
to intently question one's life, one cannot turn back
until the answer has been found.
anxious prayer was answered immediately. God knows when
we are not kidding (even if we are dramatic youngsters).
The next day I was told of a meditation class at a chapel
on the University of Pennsylvania campus. I was so excited!
Yet getting hold of Ruth, the class instructor, was
a lesson in patience... By the time I reached her, quite
late in the night, I was frustrated and angry. I complained
to her: "Here I am trying to become a real yogi and
you are not answering the phone." Much later, she explained
to me that she was teaching English to Vietnamese refugees
for many hours a day for very little pay, and sometimes
even as a volunteer.
was a young man dressed in orange robes at the Ruth's
class. On seeing him, I experienced another moment of
instant recognition -- with shivers, hair-on-their-ends,
and goose bumps. I knew at once that I would become
like him. I was eager to received tantric initiation
and he obliged me. He had very little time but I would
not let him go -- I had so many questions. He barely
had time to address the needs of a few more college
kids (who would never show up again).
the next few months, as the orange-robed monk, slowly
introduced me to the tantric tradition and teachings,
the desire to become like him steadily grew in my heart
and mind. I was attracted to the intellectual complexity
of my master's philosophy and to his idealistic endeavors
to change the world and to establish a moralist-controlled
world government by the year 2005. His socio-economic
theory, wherein he offered an alternative to both capitalism
and communism, were especially fascinating for me, a
young man from Soviet Russia who had no illusions about
the limitations of the communist system -- or, for that
matter, the capitalist one.
the year of my initiation, I took a leave of absence
from my math studies at the University to spend a semester
in the nation's capital under the guardianship of my
master's organization. I was living with five young
men and a woman, all but one of whom were to choose
the monastic path in due time. We published a newspaper
inspired by my master's ideas and meditated, ate, and
talked -- living in a near perfect harmony. That time
in Washington was one of the most memorable periods
of my life. For the first time, I was treated with respect
and understanding and was loved for my dedication to
the spiritual path rather than through the worldly hopes
first significant proof of the efficacy of tantra yoga
practices came within one year of practice. Doctors
were no longer able to detect scars left on my lung
tissue by my multiple pneumonias. Another proof of my
progress came when I was fingerprinted for US naturalization.
When the official compared the new print of my right
hand (the one that changes with spiritual growth) with
the old one on file, she was stunned and quite suspicious,
and she questioned me at length. They were obviously
my prints, but the lines had changed drastically...
wanted to go and visit my master in India directly after
my initiation. But the Divine wisely stalled my plans
until I had reached a certain level of spiritual understanding
and emotional maturity -- the trip did not materialize
until I had firmly decided to dedicate my life to my
master and become a monk.
was determined to undergo monastic training in India.
Tantra is the product of India -- and a prospective
teacher must become well acquainted with its culture
of origin. I fully realized only much later the appropriateness
of studying in India. My intimacy with Indian culture
helped me to better understand tantra practice and theory.
More importantly, studying in India helped me to avoid
confusing tantra's deep spiritual teachings with irrelevant
messages coming from Indian cultural fixations.
summer day, just a few weeks after I graduated from
college, I flew out to India with $200 in my pocket
-- at 23 we are game for many an adventure. Providence
provided a kind Bengali gentleman to talk to on the
airplane. He not only offered a great conversation but
also paid for a taxi that delivered me right to the
door of my master's house. Calcutta was hot, humid,
scary, and fascinating, and its people looked very poor.
I was overcoming the initial shock, my master appeared.
He was taking one of his daily walks. One look at his
blissful face and it became obvious to me that I would
not be able to understand his message without deeper
skills in meditation. I decided to leave for Benares
monastery (the training center) the next day. A few
monks thought I should stay a bit longer near my master
-- partly because they perceived me as a rich American
kid they could easily milk.
training center for monastic teachers (my master did
not believe in non-teaching monks), was located in the
outer environs of Benares (now called Varanasi) -- the
"Jerusalem" of Hindu thought, worship and charity. The
city, which is considered the abode of saints, thieves
and widows, is sacred to Lord Shiva -- a major tantric
deity. The atmosphere in the city was very special.
The signs of serious spiritual practice and attainment
were everywhere and complemented the worldly charm of
the most ancient continuous settlement on the planet.
local raja donated an old, dilapidated castle, once
infested with cobras and still surrounded by a moat
half-filled with water. Inside the castle 50 bare-foot
monks-to-be chanted, meditated, and fasted. They also
grew vegetables in a garden -- which was cultivated
both inside and outside the moat -- and prepared about
350 chapatis (Indian wheat tortillas) for lunch and
dinner (and frequently for breakfast). The future monks
spent most of their time in blatantly conspicuous bliss
-- a result of a combination of potent tantric practices
and restrictions on casual visitors.
everything was bliss, though. I was assigned to the
worst garden plot -- a decision no doubt motivated by
my trainer's tacit appraisal of my agricultural abilities.
The plot was under a vulture's nest, which allowed for
the birds' direct deposit right onto my only shirt while
I tended my feeble vegetables, which did not serve well
to improve my gardening skills. And there were daily
beatings with a bamboo stick, which I and the other
forlorn Westerner were thoughtfully spared. It was at
times lonely in that strange culture, and few Indians
had the education that I had or a mind that I was able
I was duly trained and had taken the monastic oaths
(on Christmas Day 1985 to be precise), my master sent
me to Greece and Yugoslavia, and later to Turkey and
Cyprus. Missionary work for his organization was a challenging
but rewarding experience that encouraged learning how
to rely on God daily and how to become a better teacher.
While stationed in the Mediterranean region, I was regularly
flying to India to visit my master in Calcutta. I made
about twenty trips -- a staggering number -- unbelievable,
if not for the entry-exit stamps in my passport.
enjoyed Greece for its healing energy, and its emotional
and intellectual depth. I cherished Yugoslavia for the
spiritual urge and pride of its people; the language
was easy to learn, as well, because it was so close
to Russian. I still remember my lecture tours in Bosnia
-- there I enjoyed the best hospitality I have enjoyed
anywhere. I had no idea that the civil war was about
to break out, which would break the country into pieces.
And it still pains me that some of the people I met,
befriended, and taught are probably now dead.
was much attached to my master and his organization...
My superior -- a wise senior monk -- once said to me:
"Where else would you go?" He sensed my love and my
very independent nature. He did not know that I would
rather die than compromise with the Truth.
1991-1999 Abhidhyan Yoga Institute, Inc. All rights