First Steps (Part 1)

The face of Truth is covered over

By a golden vessel. Uncover it, O Lord,

That I who love the Truth may see,

O Lord, sole Seer, Controler, Sun,

Son of the Father of all beings, shine forth,

Concentrate your splendour that I may behold

Your most glorious form. He who is yonder-

The man yonder- I myself am He!

Go, my breath, to the immortal wind,

Then may this body end in ashes!

Remember, o my mind, the deeds of the past,

Remember the deeds, remember the deeds of the past

(Verses are taken from Fifteenth Bhahmana of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

The Verse addressed to the resplendent sun. The face of truth is covered with a golden vessel, and so I cannot see the truth behind. I can see only the glare of the vessel of gold that is covering the light of truth. O glorious one! Lift this lid of gold with which you have covered the glory of truth inside, so that I may behold your inner reality, which is my own essence, also. The essence in you is my essence. So, I have a great privilege, a prerogative of beholding your true nature which is not the radiance of the beaming rays that you are projecting to baffle the eyes of people. You have an inner being which is hidden behind the rays. Withdraw your rays; uncover this lid and enable me to behold you as you are in essence, so that I may commune myself with your being.’ Thus is the soul’s prayer to the sun. (translation by Swami Krishnananda)

In the Gospel of St John1 3:2
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

The dying is reminded to recall the deeds of the past, in other words, recall his life and  tonight as I speak of my life, my spiritual journey, I am also preparing for the moment when I will be facing the Eternal Truth. This is what the spiritual journey is all about. Preparing to face that moment when we come face to face with Truth.

In the first chapter of “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga”, (Swami Vishnu Devananda) said “ Yoga is a science by which the individual approaches Truth…… and the aim of all Yoga practice is to achieve truth wherein the individual soul identifies with the Supreme soul or God.”

It is my experience from a very early age to have a feeling of separated-ness, a feeling of longing, a feeling to be satisfied on another level beyond the physical. Today as an adult I look at this and try to put it into context. If I asked you why are you here taking this course, why do you want to become a teacher of Yoga.. I don’t think that any one of you want to become a teacher in order to make money. So why do you want to become a Yoga teacher? Ask yourself this question. I guess many of you will say so that you can help people, to be more healthy, etc etc but basically you want to help others. Where does this idea of helping people come from? Ask yourself this question. (I was speaking to students at a Teacher Training program)

I believe that there is something inherent in each one of us, something which we did not put there but that something which spurs us on to do good for ourselves and for others.

That something for me is the basis of spirituality. It is like a seed which is planted in us from the time we were born and as it grows, it requires our attention otherwise it creates within us, a feeling of being incomplete.

I thank my mother for her being my fist Guru as she gave me a spiritual foundation. I thank my grand-mothers for their teachings and their examples. I remember once during the depression a neighbour asked my mother. “How do you make it? How do you find strength to go on?” We were nine children, 5 boys and 4 girls. My mother answered ‘Faith alone gives me the strength. If I did not have faith, I don’t know what life would be like” . I was quite young then but I remember asking myself ..”What is faith?”

In that reply, my mother did not mention religion. She did not say that religion allowed her to go through tough moments in life although she was religious woman, she referred rather to faith. For myself, maybe I can live without religion, but I cant live without spirituality. This spirituality is food for the soul as also food is for the health of the physical body. Spirituality is what allows me to have faith. St Paul said “We have received the Spirit of God so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” (1 Cor. 2 vs 13)

So I began my spiritual search and one day I asked my grand-mother to lend me a book from her collection of spiritual books and she lent me one called “The Imitation of Jesus Christ”. In the first chapter of the second book it says that “The Kingdom of heaven is within. All the glory and beauty of God lies within and it is in the secret of the heart that it pleases Him to dwell”

It was reflections like this one from this book led me on to further horizons. And so I began my search for the beauty and the glory of God and being brought up in a tropical country, I searched not only within but also in the beauty in the nature which surrounded us.

At nights I fell asleep with the sound of drums. They came from the African Shango religion. In those days they were not allowed to practice in the city so they took to the forest in the hills close to our village and at nights I could hear these mysterious drums which my parents explained were there ways of praying to God

When Chistopher Columbus and the Spanish came to the island, they brought slaves from Africa, slaves who were not only of the Shango religion but also some were Muslims. The Spanish were Catholics. And so as a child I was exposed to all these religions.

When driving out of the city and through the country sides, I could see the Hindu temples with their prayer-flags. The domes of the Muslim mosques standing out so clearly near the rice-fields were all familiar sights.

The Muslims celebrated the day of the martyrdom of Husein, the son of their prophet, by singing hymns and dancing to drums in the streets. When I was sent to primary and secondary school, most of my friends were members of all these different religions and we grew up in the simplicity of childhood friendships in an atmosphere where as a child where we knew so little of religious differences.

When I migrated to Canada I was just 22 years old and I lost not only my friends but also all the riches of the cultural background to which I was accustomed. In 1956 Montreal was far different than it is today. The Catholic religion was the dominant one of the society. They had built  schools, hospitals etc and the most prominent politician,  the Prime Minister of Quebec at the time was Catholic. There were Anglicans and other Christian religions and there were Jews but we did not see any Hindu temples nor Mosques etc.

I missed my country and my friends and so I turned to spirituality even more, taking refuge in the library and its many books and the church on Sundays but the books were my main interest as I read Thomas Merton and “Seeds of Contemplation “ I felt a desire to learn about meditation, something that Thomas Merton mentioned. I thought at the time, that the only way I could live a truly spiritual life was to join a religious Order like Thomas Merton had done or like the monk who wrote the book Imitation Of Jesus Christ. I read the life of St Francis of Assisi and was impressed and so one day while walking in the city, I met a friend from college and he told me about a Franciscan monastery where he went for mass on Sundays. It rang a bell in my head and so I asked for the address and the first week-end afterwards, I found the place and I went  to enquire about the life and my possibility of  joining their ranks.

Around that time, I was working in Montreal and going to parties with the guys and learning how to dance the rock an roll etc but in the midst of all this, there was a voice in my head somewhere telling me that all this was not for me.

Eventually I made arrangements and was accepted into the Franciscan community in which I lived for 43 years. I was happy as a novice in spite the frugal life, the hard work, the long hours of prayers and the little hours for sleep. I had time to read and we had spiritual conferences where we learnt about the lives of saints, about Franciscan spirituality and about the spiritual life in general. The accent was on what St Francis called ‘keeping the spirit of oraison or recollection’. Today when I look at it, I think he was really trying to help us find what he had found…being one with the Divine, one with God even though one was in ordinary duties, never loosing sight of the presence of the Christ and the Holy Spirit within.

Now on my spiritual quest, I had a goal, something which really satisfied me when I was able to keep that focus. On the spiritual journey, we need a guide, someone who had been there. I had quite a few spiritual masters assigned to me during the years of formation before the vows. I consider them as being holy men, men of prayer and devotion but something was lacking. St Bonaventure wrote a life of St Francis where he spoke of how when St Francis was in prayer, he had the power of pulling one in if we were close enough. It was my understanding that there is a grace which flows from a realized soul, a grace, a power which could help us to advance on the path.

I wanted to meet a master with this power. I wanted initiation, something about which I learnt later but I couldn’t find that among these men. A new form of meditation from the East was being taught and after attending a lecture, I went and was initiated. Now in my meditations I was discovering another dimension that I had not experienced  before. This new technique from India intrigued me. I searched and this led me to read for the first time a commentary of the first six chapters of the Bhagavad Gita and then I discovered Yoga and in the space of a few years it seems like not only windows but large doors began opening and bringing in so much to my spiritual search. I wanted more. It had been some 10 years now since I lived under the influence of Franciscan spirituality.  (to be continued)

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