Diary of a young American – A Transforming Sojourn
[ Noam, a bright boy of 26 years, came to know about Poojya Swamiji from his friend Bharat Govindani. During Swamiji’s visit to USA in August 1999, he came all the way from California to spend a weekend in the company of Poojya Swamiji at Govindanis’ residence in Virginia. Inspired by the interaction, he felt a strong desire to stay in the Ashram for a couple of months.
Thus, he arrived in the Ashram in December 1999. This was his first visit to India – meant for an exclusive stay in the Ashram for about two months. An American Jew, he blended himself so well with the Ashram life and routines that nobody felt he was a visitor, much less a foreigner.
Here are some excerpts from his diary about the thoughts and experiences during the stay in the Ashram.]
14 December 1999
My friends would be jealous if they knew I was writing this journal from my own balcony overlooking a long stretch of garden and coconut trees, and enjoying the warm breezy afternoon after a great meal. And this is only a small part of life here in the Ashram.
The tortuously long trip and temporarily lost luggage are already a distant memory (though I am yet to get back the luggage from Air France). A new energy came to me on the way to the Ashram from Kochi – a heart-stopping taxi-ride out of a James Bond movie. The Indian countryside is beautiful – lush green, full of life. Very different from anything I have seen before. Everything seems to be colourful and almost festive. Even the cars and buses are often painted in bright colours. And the people of course, also dress in a multitude of colours.
17 December 1999
Mataji Sulabha Devi’s Mahasamadhi day. The ceremony in the Samaadhi Mandir was very nice indeed. Poojya Swamiji’s talk brought tears to my eyes. To hear someone talk about unflinching love for all and to know that it is true, is very moving.
In the afternoon, we made rice packets to give to the local people in need. Swamiji also talked to them before giving out the rice. … So much goes on here all the time, and there is a certain quality to it all that makes the events carry a special depth and sublimity.
Later I went for a walk with Nutan Swamiji along the rice fields that stretch out from the base of the hill, on the slope of which the Ashram is located. I asked Nutan Swamiji many questions I had in my mind, and he answered as we walked along. What a feeling walking with a wise person in the evening sun, with the warm Indian breeze and lush green fields around! This is the life! Timeless and beautiful. How did this happen to me?
19 December 1999
Tonight, I feel a special quietness for the first time. The past week has been very exciting – being in a new country, interacting with a different culture, being in the presence of such wise and loving people. Very inspiring. Now I begin to be a bit more stable, yet carrying the inspiration. The quietness is revealing; it gives me a chance to evaluate and contemplate, with fewer expectations.
21 December 1999
Swamiji continues to work his magic with the children from Patna, especially the boy. His facial expressions and demeanor have changed dramatically in just a couple of days. His sisters appear to be lovely and very intelligent. Last night I felt humbled when they read out from their diaries, written in not only perfect English but in a very elegant and open manner.
24 December 1999
Every morning from about 5 a.m., a nearby temple blasts songs, and perhaps prayers, over loudspeakers. I feel the noise interferes with my desire for a quiet morning. After all, early morning is a good time to think or contemplate. So, I felt bothered this morning. I would be happier if I could assimilate the disturbance. Wouldn’t it be nice not to be bothered by anything? The blaring prayers could be viewed as a violation of civil liberty in USA.
25 December 1999
Usually I go to a movie on Christmas Day, as many Jewish people do. But here in the Ashram, today is just like any other day, and I would rather be here than go to a movie. It is really nice to be far away from the usual routine. This shows how different a life can be, and how strong the influence of the society is in formulating day to day habits and perceptions.
27 December 1999
This afternoon, the children left the Ashram to return to Patna, a 3-day journey by train. I was sad to see them off. They had become part of my spiritual family here. In just one week, Swamiji transformed them into upstanding young adults. At any rate, I will miss their company. Before they left, Nutan Swamiji asked them to sing together a few songs. They sat in the verandah in front of Nutan Swamiji and Ma, and sang a few songs. How touching it was! There is a distinct civility and affection for people here in India that I do not find in America.
29 December 1999
This evening, during the prayers and especially during the following meditation, I felt enveloped in a wonderful stillness. A stillness, yet palpable – as if a consistency in which I was floating. How nice life would be if this state could be carried all the time. Surely, the fulfilment comes from such an existence within, not from external occurrences.
01 January 2000
When I was young, I used to think how old I would be in the year 2000. 26 years old; and it seemed so far away. And here I am in India. I looked at my watch as the date flipped to year 00. That was the extent of the celebration, as I promptly went to sleep. A very peaceful and uneventful New Year’s Eve. Except the sound of some far off fireworks, there was no sign in the Ashram to indicate anything had changed. I read in the paper that in America, there was worry about terrorism, with Seattle even cancelling public parties. How nice not to be concerned with such things!
In a discussion with Ma today, she said that she, Swamiji and Nutan Swamiji – all love me like a son. One cannot express the warmth they radiate. I am becoming more and more aware of this every time I am in their presence. I become calm and light, and breathe more deeply. I know their concern and care for me is true and real, and this is something very rare.
04 January 2000
Tonight brings a new lightness to my being. I have learnt a lot the past few days, and very practical lessons. Together with an increasing sensitivity to the peace that surrounds me, I feel a renewed calmness – a calmness yet with vigour. A smile seems almost planted on my face, and a carefree confidence.
08 January 2000
Many people come to the Ashram. Everyone seems to be so friendly with me. Most of Swamiji’s disciples are very well learned. In some ways it is like being in a highly motivated scholastic atmosphere. Here doctors, engineers, scientists and executives are back in school learning about Self.
Everyone, who stays here for a few days or more, always brightens up. I enjoy this so much – to see people relax. Smiles develop; anxieties go away; seekers have their doubts removed. I have become used to this now, but it is truly remarkable. I have noticed that all doubts vanish while staying here. A wonderful purity, a desire-free confidence wells up. How nice this feels. Then the faint signs of anxiety creep back. Increasingly, I am less concerned about the recurrences though. I try to look at them as opportunities for expansion.
27 January 2000
Although I have come to Madras with Swamiji, Nutan Swamiji and Ma, I think my life expectancy is decreasing on the city streets. I have never seen a more unproductive and dangerous system of traffic control. How is it that India generates unparalleled knowledge and unnecessary danger at the same time? The problem is that I have to cross the street now and then!
04 February 2000
My last day in the Ashram. I am feeling a combination of emotions. I am happy to be going home energized to take on the world like Arjuna after being inspired and enlightened by Krishna. I am eager to put the knowledge imparted to me into practice in my life in America. On the other hand, I know that the Ashram does wonders to our mental state. I barely have to try to have this enveloping peace of mind. I will not have this atmosphere back home. The Ashram is a beautiful place to live where people become human.
Well, here I am in Bombay airport. Swamiji gave me a great hug, a strong pat on the back, and a nice soothing touch on the eyes and heart. Ma and Nutan Swamiji also patted my heart and bid me farewell. And then I was off.
It was strange to leave. I have never left an Ashram before.
– Noam Shore, December 1999