Last weekend, I had a phone conversation with my teacher Gurudev Chitrabhanu-ji and his wife Pramoda-ji. Both Gurudev Chitrabhanu-ji and Pramoda-ji are on the forefront spreading the message of Ahimsa and how the philosophy of nonviolence brings our focus on caring for all living life, human, animal, plant life, and the environment itself.
Speaking with Chitrabhanu-ji and his wife reminded me of the years I spent with my teacher at the Jain Meditation Center in NYC the late 1970s up to 1980-81.
I used to go to Jain Meditation Center to listen to Gurudev speak. Often, I would stay around after the lecture and listen to the questions asked of Gurudev. At the end, many people got in a line to ask Gurudev more personal questions. These questions typically focused on health issues, self-improvement, meditation methods, mantras, and at times psychic phenomena. Some of the questions seemed quite far out to me.
I was very young then and perhaps immature in some ways. I used to sit so closely to Gurudev that I could hear all the questions and answers from the people in the line who came up one by one. When someone tried to whisper the question, I leaned even closer to hear it. Once in a while, someone would give me the look. But I stayed very close so I could hear everything that Gurudev was saying. I felt as if every word of my teacher was a gem and that I did not want to miss a single thing. I did not really think about other people’s privacy. It was an open space in the hall so I felt it was not an issue. Gurudev always looked at me and smiled and never said anything either.
After the talk at the Meditation Center, I often walked Gurudev and Pramoda-ji back to their apartment. During that time, I was able to speak to my teacher freely and ask him any questions on meditation, yoga, chakras, mantras, etc. Gurudev was happy to accommodate and answer me. I learned much from what he said during those conversations and have written about some of the incidents. Those were fun times.
One time when I was walking with Gurudev, another of his students was with us. This person had serious questions about some dreams about dying that he had been having. I could not help but hear the conversation. In that particular case, however, Gurudev said to me in Hindi that he wanted me to run and get something from a store that was on the street and gave me some money. It was unusual because Gurudev and I typically spoke in English (with some sprinkling of Hindi) and he had never sent me on an errand during our walk.
I quickly surmised that Gurudev wanted privacy for this conversation. Of course, I ran to the store to get the food item and then caught up with Gurudev and the other person as they had gone a block ahead of me. By that time, they were done talking and the student was leaving. After that, Gurudev and I walked rest of the way back to Gurudev’s apartment. I bowed to my teacher and said my Namaste and walked back to the place where I could catch the subway to go home.
In those days I was completely immersed in yoga and meditation. In fact, I made my living teaching yoga at the New York Health and Racquet club in NYC in Midtown Manhattan. Many of the famous actors, actresses, newscasters, and politicians of the 1970s who worked nearbye came to that club.
I remember Mary Tyler Moore, Hope Lange, Gracie Jones, Bella Abzug, Tom Brokaw, and some people from Saturday Night Live coming to the club. There were many others but my memory has now faded. I remember Mary Tyler Moore came to my Yoga class a couple of times. She was very respectful, it seemed to me, of Eastern philosophies and yoga. Hope Lange used to be there often during the time that I was there and she was very unassuming and congenial. I also remember Congress Woman Bella Abzug come to the club. She had a relaxed wonderful style and was easy to talk to. She seemed genuinely interested in yoga and a few times we spoke about reincarnation. She must have known Shirly MacLaine because I recall Bella mentioning her in the context of our conversations on reincarnation. This was all back in 1978-1980 time range.
Most of my free time when I was not teaching yoga at the New York Health and Racquet Club, I spent in contemplation and meditation at my house which I shared with other meditators who were also students of my teacher.
Coming back to my conversation last weekend, I spoke to Pramoda-ji first and we had a nice talk. She will be sending me some articles that she has written to be published on the Luthar.com website. In fact, I have already published one. I will have the webmaster upload another one soon. Pramoda-ji is the President of the Jain International Meditation Center in Mumbai (Bombay). She is also on the on the Board of Directors for PETA in India (People For Ethical Treatments of Animals). She works for the Reverence for Life Society and for Beauty without Cruelty which promote animal welfare and the vegetarian way of life worldwide. Promada-ji has also authored a number of books – Foods of Earth; Tastes of Heaven – Jain Symbols – To Light One Candle (co-authored with Clare Rosenfield) – The Book of Compassion (coauthored with Pravin K. Shah). More on Pramoda-ji can be found on the Jain Meditation website.
I had a wonderful talk with Gurudev Chitrabhanu after I spoke to Pramoda-ji. His voice was relaxed and fresh and just as I remember it all the past times that I have spoken to him. He told me that Clare Rosenfield and her husband were there visiting them at the time. Gurudev knows the closeness I feel with the Sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi. He mentioned his visit to Sri Ramana when he was 19 years old. That was one year before he became a Jain Monk.
During the conversation, Gurudev Chitrabhanu recited some poetry in Hindi to me and then explained it as well several times in different ways. The essence of the poem was that the real meeting is the meeting of the minds and the body only serves as the context. His message was that whether I am able to be in someone’s physical presence is not important but it is the meeting of the minds and the Heart connection that is the most central. Sri Ramana has said exactly the same thing in one of his conversations.
Gurudev will be leaving for India soon. I will be communicating with Chitrabhanu-ji and Pramoda-ji again in the near future. Mamata-ji, Chitrabhanu-ji’s secretary, has done a wonderful job of keeping us all informed of all the different international events taking place with Gurudev and Pramoda-ji playing a leadership role.