Eknath Easwaran

“Mine is India of the Spirit” (Rediff, India)

Rediff.com. India: I have a special, soft corner in my heart for Hinduism. It is like a mother to me, and I have always felt so,” says Stephen H Ruppenthal.

The author of the recently published “The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation” was barely 14 when he fell in love with India.

Son of a TWA pilot, he could travel across the world but India hooked him during his first visit. Later he would come to know the spiritual master Eknath Easwaran and work with him for about three decades.

He spoke to Senior Editor Arthur J Pais.

You say when you visited India for the first time everything came to you in a different light. What was this unique experience due to?

A journalist said not too long ago that my insights into India may have been due to karma. Over the past month, I have thought a lot about that. Maybe I did have some of India in me even before I landed there at age 14. Mine is the India of the spirit. Before that, I was not religious in the least. But I came away from India wanting passionately to find the deepest truth in religion; not hear it from a church pulpit, but experience it in my consciousness.

Were you tempted to settle down in India? If so, why didn’t you do it?

You bet I was tempted!! But I was a young man who had been offered a full scholarship to study Chinese and Sanskrit literature at one of the best American universities [University of California at Berkeley]. I made a compromise: I resolved to spend the year at the university and then take my summer breaks at an ashram in India, becoming steeped in mediation practice. That was when I met Easwaran….

How did that change your resolve to go to India?

He was starting an Indian-inspired ashram near my campus. In a way, I found India where I was.

What are some of the most important things you learned from Easwaran?

To meditate and find inner peace. In his presence, I meditated many hours a day. Meditation with him usually took me deeper in consciousness than when he was not present. Being with Easwaran was like seeing into a self that was pure love, deep and hidden, accessible only in his presence.

Do you belong to a particular religion?

I am not affiliated with any religion. Passage meditation, as taught in my book, is a method drawing on all religions, not a belief system.

Yet you are full of Hinduism, isn’t it?

This method’s founder was steeped in the Hindu tradition. I have a special, soft corner in my heart for Hinduism. It is like a mother to me, and I have always felt so.

Many people in the West are drawn to Indian spiritualism thinking that it is easy and easily accessible. What do you think about it?

Any great treasure takes some work to find and gain. When something is easily accessible, often it isn’t worth that much, or perhaps the hard work comes later down the road. To me, Indian spirituality is a treasure of the highest order.

And yet reaching the treasure isn’t easy.

Teachers like Easwaran have made it available, but the work of traversing deeper consciousness is nevertheless difficult and dangerously perilous at times.

Have you had setbacks in your quest?

I have experienced serious falls and reverses and know the pitfalls. I will not agree with anyone who thinks the work of spiritual discipline is easy. One has at times to pit one’s whole being against very dark foes. There is nothing easy about that, but the rewards, when they come, are stupendous.

What does India mean to you at this stage of life?

India stands for hope in a world full of violence and despair. The fertile spiritual soil of India will bring forth a spiritual figure who will guide the world back into love, into peace, into mutual respect and caring for each other. That is how we will save this planet.

When was the last time you visited India?

My last visit was over 30 years ago. It set my direction in life. I visited ashrams in south India and became convinced there that meditation held answers for me. At home, people were entering deeper consciousness in their experiments with psychedelic drugs. But I didn’t see these brought major changes in them and their lives.

I believed it was possible to enter one’s deepest self in meditation in a more permanent way. These experiences would in turn imprint themselves on one’s whole life and world, helping one to serve humanity in the way one is most meant to.

Some Americans consider Buddhism or Hinduism as New Age religions. How can that perception be changed?

Westerners should look carefully at the thousands of years of tradition and teaching that lie at the bedrock of Hinduism and Buddhism. It is because of this misguided ‘New Age’ view of these religions that I have published The Path of Direct Awakening, to show some of the great wealth that is there in the spiritual literature of Indian Buddhism and in the traditions of China, which so looked to India for light. To show what these traditions contain is the best way to challenge the view that they are curious, new age religions.

What are some of the Indian philosophical (and other literature) you value most?

I am more a devotee than a jnani. Though I love the wisdom of the Upanishads and such high philosophy and logic as the Nyaya-Vaishesheka and Nagarjuna, I feel most drawn to the life and example of Sri Krishna. Right now, religion is still concepts up in my head. I want to have religion flooding my heart.

How will you go through that process?

Sri Krishna offers this in the Bhagvad Gita. That is why I have memorised all of chapters 2 through 12, plus 15 and parts of 18, for use in my passage meditation. When I meditate on these passages, I try to repeat these words in my heart, where I believe Sri Krishna resides in all his glory. In this regard, I have also memorized all passages with the yin-yang symbol in my book that brings the same peace and energy directly from nature and the magical world around us.

What captivates you most about the epics?

I am captivated also by epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and by the tales of the Buddha’s former birth in the Jataka. These great stories have convinced me that the deepest awareness, the kind I am seeking, comes only through suffering and trial. Plato once said in the Republic that wisdom can only be attained when the philosopher is compelled by circumstance to undergo painful training and experience — compelled, because no one would ever willingly undertake such difficult, often lonely trials.

Do you believe in reincarnation?

We come into life many times until we learn the secret of who we truly are and why we are here, as the Zen mystics say, ‘our original face before our mother and father were born’.

What would you like to be born as in your next life?

I know imagination can run wild on this subject and does!!! I am always amazed how, when someone looks into their past lives, somehow they were always a maharaja or maharani, and not a garbageman or washerwoman.

But for myself, I have one wish for my next life: to continue uninterrupted in my practice of meditation, amidst spiritual company, toward the destiny of full spiritual awakening I believe I was born to achieve.

What would you not like to be born as?

I do not want to be born as a selfish, materialistic, and spiritually blind individual. I am trying hard to rid myself of these tendencies in this life.

Apart from meditation, what helps you to achieve your goals?

Therapy, selfless work. That is the other part of spiritual work, to get at the shadow material in consciousness that does not necessarily appear until we are near death and the activities of daily life are no longer possible.

I have sought ways to bring them out in the open, so that I can deal with them now, while willful effort and spiritual work are still possible.

What would you tell an American or a non-Indian who is getting interested in Hinduism or Buddhism?

I would encourage them not to make major life decisions until they do the following. First, study books that interpret the scriptures with life and practicality to our age. Then I would urge them to go to India for the darshan of a saint. After that, they will see much more clearly what their true work and path in life will be.

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From Heart to Heart: Prayer at center of your life has power to transform (The Register-Guard, Oregon)

Rev. Nola Woodbury, The Register-Guard: Twenty years ago, I went through a devastating divorce. The pain and sadness forced me to look at life differently and to seek out a truth on which I could rebuild my life. Although I was raised as a Christian, I turned to the teachings of Buddha, chanted Hindu prayers at retreats with Ram Dass, and read the three-volume commentary on the Bhagavad Gita written by Sri Eknath Easwaran.

I started meditating on my own, and then I attended The Blue Mountain Meditation Center in California to deepen my practice.

There, Sri Easwaran taught what is known as “passage meditation.” He teaches you to memorize an inspirational passage from any sacred text. Then, in your meditation, you go through the words of the passage in your mind as slowly as you can, letting each word drop singly into your consciousness.

Your repetitions drive the words deeper and deeper into your consciousness, so that they eventually become an integral part of you. The secret of this meditation is that you become what you meditate on.

I began my practice using The St. Francis Prayer. This simple prayer is one of the most well-known of all the prayers in recorded history. In it, St. Francis describes the essential content of our highest self. He expresses the deep yearning that we all have to be the spiritual being who inhabits our physical form. It expresses a wish to be an instrument for God’s will.

To ask for the strength to sow love where there is hatred, hope where there is despair, and light where there is darkness is to ask to be free from the pettiness and judgments that so often imprison us. This prayer is a way of seeking to practice in everyday life consoling, understanding, pardoning and giving. It is a request to be an expression of the powerful love that we attribute to the Creator and that is part of our own being.

Each morning for 20 years, I have recited the words of this prayer. It has become a touchstone for me, connecting me to the highest, most sacred aspect of my being – and connecting me to God.

When I first started memorizing the prayer, I had to start from the beginning again and again. Hundreds of times I began with the words, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

It finally dawned on me that this was the essence of the prayer. The rest of the prayer is all “how-tos.”

Seeing myself as an instrument of peace and holding that pure intent in my heart started dissolving thoughts that were not peaceful.

Those eight words alone can improve every relationship we have, starting with our relationship with ourself. They can help promote peace in our family, our workplace, our community and our world.

The practice of prayer is an incredibly powerful force for transformation in our lives. Imagine a world in which all people lived The St. Francis Prayer.

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The St. Francis Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life

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