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Saturday November 6, 2004: V.G.'s Yoga Retreat

    Dr. V.G. Kulkarni is back in the United States, and I will have the chance to see this dear friend in a few weeks. It will be a bitter-sweet meeting for me. For the past thirty years this Brahmin holy man from southern India has spent four months each year leading meditation groups and giving lectures to a variety of different religious groups here in the states. He was always a friend to me, though I knew many saw him as a guru.  I understood the early days and the loyalty of students who flocked to see him. The idea of V.G. leading meditations became a focal point for many students, encouraging them to tackle their spiritual disciplines with renewed vigor.

   It was perhaps a sad reality for V.G. that in the months when he resided in India, many of his American students drifted back into routines of secular life that quickly displaced those spiritual practices. Each year, V.G. hoped people would reach a point of independence, would not need his encouragement to stay focused on their own disciplines.

    Five years ago, he began saying, "This will be my last trip.  I am getting too old to keep coming to the United States. God willing, my work here is done." The older yoga students were established in their practices and did not really need anything from him; people simply took delight being near him, soaking up the warmth of his radiance. Each year he suggested it would probably be his last visit.  I know as V.G. aged, the time spent away from his home in India became more difficult. Yet, each year he was persuaded to return to America the following October.

  This was a man who wanted early in life to follow the way of the ascetic, but was forced by his guru to take the path of a householder, or family man.  Rama, his guru, would not let him renounce the world, but pushed him to marry and complete his education.  Rama thought there would be value for average people if they could see someone like V.G. living in the secular world, being a householder, and still devoting himself to a richly spiritual life.

V.G. and I understand each other here. One learns different lessons; one approaches spirituality differently within the confines of a household. The path takes longer because of twists and turns; it forces one to find stability in new ways, ways that would never present themselves in the life of an ascetic.

When I was much younger I read a book about ordinary people pursuing mysticism within non-monastic lifestyles.  The people described in the book were either single or they were older couples.  In each case, the people had removed themselves from the hustle and bustle of the secular world (usually by moving from city to country) and had simplified their environment and their schedules in order to pursue a more mystical life.

   I read this book when my kids were little, and the approach only frustrated me.  It was a lifestyle I could neither live nor impose on my children.  My only choice was to find mystical understanding in spite of my hectic schedule, while continuing to expose my children to the wonders and the workings of the secular world.

 I appreciate now, when the boys are out of the house, how comforting it is to drift toward the mystic's simplicity. I laugh about someday turning into a secular hermit, retreating at night to the quiet of my domestic cave while still working and socializing during the daylight hours. I've time now to appreciate the quiet space within a house no longer under continual invasion by outside influences.

 This quiet is something to look forward to as one ages, as the house empties out. It is a freedom of having one's own needs to attend to, rather than looking first to other's.  Is that why V.G. keeps trying to end his annual visits to the states? The life of a teacher is a responsibility for one's students. To teach is to open oneself, to share but also to allow students and attendees to pull from you knowledge and enthusiasm and energy. Ask any teacher -- they never object to this process. Even if students hold onto you as their guru, expecting you to lift them to spiritual heights, a teacher's life is still rich with rewards.

 In the Hindu faith, there are stages of responsibility. V.G. has fulfilled the role of student, family man, holy man for his community, and spiritual role model for many Americans.  I think he's reached that point where the luxury would be to renounce outer commitments and focus more on his own inner life.

Therein lays the bitter-sweet side of meeting V.G. again when he visits. I will attend the weekend retreat to see old friends and catch up on a year's worth of activity in each of their lives.  I will give V.G. shoulder rubs and offer what support I can.  But part of me is sad that he still finds himself coming to the states, being surrounded by people who want one more lecture, one more meditation. I take comfort that the retreat is attended by older students, who no longer ask for motivation and inspiration. Hopefully, during this visit we will give more back to him than what he gives to us.  Perhaps, like me, those who attend the retreat no longer are looking for a teacher or mentor, and simply come to visit with a friend.


Posted on Saturday, November 6, 2004 at 07:15AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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