Bliss – The Source and Meaning of Life: By Michael Bowes

This article was originally written on May 9, 2006 and posted by Michael Bowes on the old HS blog.

Picture below is by long term HarshaSatsangh member Alan Larus at

One weekend in the early 1990s, my friend Narayan and I went to Saint Louis, Missouri to visit with Swami Chetanananda. Narayan and I have known Swami since the late 1980s. On Sunday morning of that weekend we were eating breakfast with Swami and the other residents of the temple, and according to the custom there, we were all reading a portion of the newspaper.

When reading the paper, Narayan nearly always goes straight to the “funnies”.

We were all reading and eating. Swami was at the head of the table, I was to his left, and Narayan was to my left. At some point Narayan nudges me and hands me the funnies. He pointed to the “Donald Duck” comic strip.

Donald Duck was in the Himalayas searching for his guru. And there were signs posted in the mountains that said “Guru”, and then an arrow would be pointing to a certain direction. And Donald followed the signs and arrows until finally, at the top of a mountain peak sat the guru with a personal computer in front of him.

Donald Duck asked the guru, “What is the meaning of life?”

The guru didn’t answer; but the computer started printing out something that couldn’t be read on the comic strip.

The gag was that personal computers were becoming the rage, and now even the guru was using one to divine the mystic truths.

But another peculiar thing was that Narayan and I were searching for a guru and a spiritual home; and now, thanks to Donald Duck, the stage was set for that possibility.

I nudged Swami and handed him the funnies while pointing to the Donald Duck comic strip. He read it and handed it back without saying a word, and continued to eat breakfast. After breakfast Swami went to prepare for his weekly public talk. The rest of us cleaned up after the meal and relaxed until the beginning of the service.

Swami began his Sunday morning talk and I really don’t remember the topic; but near the end he announced that he was going to reveal the “Meaning of Life”. He was going to reply to the question in the funnies.

Swami started by saying, “The meaning of life is bliss.”; and the following is a very loose paraphrase of what he said to explain that statement:

There is an “ocean of bliss” that is the source, the cause and support of all that we see; And in its manifest forms that bliss is experienced as amrita, rasa, love, joy, happiness, fun, hope, peace and even as pain and suffering. Pain and suffering serve as motivation for us to find a way to return to our original state of bliss.

We were all born from bliss. We arrive in this world because one day or one night our parents engaged in a blissful activity, and as a result we were born. From that day on, all of our conscious and even subconscious activities are meant to help us either directly or indirectly to achieve bliss and happiness.

As children all we really wanted to do was play. Our true unconditioned nature is playful. But, as we start to get a little older, we are forced to go to school and we are conditioned by society to perform certain useful functions.

But bliss, happiness, satisfaction, etc. are still the primary objective of all of our behaviors. Our parents and our society force us to go to school so that we can get a job, so that we can earn money, so that we can be happy.

We marry because we believe that another person will fulfill us and make us happy. We have children because we think that will make us happy. Everything that we do is ultimately for happiness and bliss. Even so called, “selfless love” only serves to satisfy ourselves. We believe that by performing our self-ordained duties that we will be satisfied.

A short time after I heard these words from Swami, I directly experienced that “ocean of bliss”. Our own true nature is something that cannot be imagined, and it is truly inexpressible. Since then, even though I have gone through some dark times, it isn’t possible for me to worry or lose my connection to that blissful being, the “ocean of bliss” that is our own true nature. And I have a lot of fun. I can’t seem to avoid it.

I began to experience this truth because of an encounter with the “funny paper”.

Love and peace to all,
Michael Bowes

The Guru Came As Ramu – Conclusion: By Michael Bowes

Michael Bowes is well known to us as an authentic and genuine and a very experienced yogi and a devotee of Sri Bhagavan Ramana. Internationally, he is well travelled and has been to India. He has visited various Ashrams and Gurus and Swamis in both the U.S. and abroad.Michael has an uncanny ability to see to the heart of the matter and his spiritual insights pierce through the veils of sentimentality and conceptual baggage. Michael is a long term member of the HarshaSatsangh community and his presence has been a gift.

Given below is the conclusion of a three part story from Michael about his visit to a Swami in India.

You can see Part I at the following link.
Part II is at


By Sri Michael Bowes

In the first two parts of this story, I related some events that occurred during my association with a certain Swami. In part one, I told about the coming of a starving dog named Ramu, and how his presence began to unravel the Swami’s fragile facade. I wrote of the Swami’s callous statements that he made after Govindan’s wife, Mother, offered her heartfelt thanks for a small gift that I had given her.

I had planned to reveal more of the shameful actions of this Swami who initially had seemed to be a blazing spiritual light. But I realized that I cannot.

There are many blind guides in all religions and sects, persons who misuse their followers either intentionally or unintentionally. And there are many persons of faith who should carefully consider where they place their trust. And that is the question – In whom or in what may we trust?

We can trust in the ONE who sent Ramu to help me. Before I met this particular Swami, I already knew that the true Guru is always radiating grace through a myriad of ways, always guiding us through all beings and events. There is one immortal Being, unborn and undying, always providing the necessary grace to help us to recognize our own true nature. That is the message that I want to convey.

The surest spiritual path for one and all is to awaken to the love and grace of the sadguru. The Sanskrit word “sadguru” means different things to different people. Sadguru is a combination of two Sanskrit words, “sat” and “guru”. The basic meaning of “sat” is existence. It is also translated as “truth” because there is no truth apart from what exists. Of course the word “guru” is usually not translated; but refers to a spiritual guide or teacher. Some persons interpret the word “sadguru” to mean the “true guru”. But I interpret the word to convey the fact that all existence (sat) is the guru.

That is my experience.

The longer I live this life, the more I see that nothing whatsoever exists except for love, and bliss, and unimaginable communion with the sadguru as it manifests as all that we encounter. The wise spiritual aspirant will trust in the ever present sadguru and will not blindly follow any other guide.

Once I had been associating with a certain spiritual group for quite some time. I had benefited immensely from my exposure to their guru. I had developed close friendships with some of the members of the group, including the president of the organization. Occasionally, some of the members of the group would try to convince me to take initiation from their guru.

One day, my friend, the president, also tried to convince me to take initiation. He was trying to impress me with the necessity of accepting a spiritual authority. He was implying that his guru was such an authority.

He asked me, “Who is the final authority?” Suddenly, without consideration, I answered, “Me”. “I am my own final authority.”

It goes without saying. I am responsible for my own life and my own decisions. If I want to consider making a choice between different spiritual paths or spiritual teachers, I then become the ultimate authority. So do you. It’s easy to see. The buck stops with our own self, which is the same as the self of all.

But we don’t ever really need to decide between one teacher or another. The surest, most effective means to truth and happiness is to invoke the true guru, the ever present guru, which is the same as one’s own self.

When one makes that connection then there’s no doubt about the path or the method. After receiving initiation from the sadguru no spiritual or philosophical questions about life arise because life is revealed as a mysterious, blissful and wonderful existence for which there is no explanation.

Then there is nothing to accept and nothing to reject. After the touch of the sadguru one becomes free by always residing in the presence of the sacred ONE and its fantastic and mysterious manifestation.

The Guru Came As Ramu- Part II: By Michael Bowes

Michael Bowes is well known to us as an authentic and genuine and a very experienced yogi and a devotee of Sri Bhagavan Ramana. Internationally, he is well travelled and has been to India. He has visited various Ashrams and Gurus and Swamis in both the U.S. and abroad.

Michael has an uncanny ability to see to the heart of the matter and his spiritual insights pierce through the veils of sentimentality and conceptual baggage. Michael is a long term member of the HarshaSatsangh community and his presence has been a gift.

Given below is the second part of a three part story from Michael about his visit to a Swami in India. This is Part II.

You can see Part I at the following link.


By Sri Michael Bowes

Many persons would love to meet their guru. Imagine meeting a Swami of the Shankara Order who was exuding peace, love, and siddhis. Imagine an unknown Swami who, on his first trip to the West attracted a very large following in a very short time. Many persons were convinced that the Swami was an exceptional spiritual beacon. A letter came inviting me to India.

Thinking that I had met a true guru, a person who seemed to be surrounded by mystical events, I traveled to the other side of the earth to be with him in India. But after being there for a short time, and through the grace of the guru, I had already become wary.

The Ashram was situated on a quiet, peaceful farm in South India. The farm was owned by Govindan and his family. There was Mother, his wife, and there were daughter and son. I never got their names – they were Mother and daughter and son.

Govindan had a nice room with a bed and a desk and some chairs. There was a ceiling fan and he had a water purifier there. I would often go there and visit. Mother lived in the kitchen. She slept on a mat on the bare concrete floor. I never did find out where daughter and son slept; but I think that it might have been in the cowshed.

Mother and daughter cooked for us on a wood fire. Sometimes there were many persons there. The food was great. In part one, I mentioned that Govindan, and Shyam and I went to Ramana Ashrama and some other locations; but before we did, I wanted to give Mother a small gift. I also wanted to give something to daughter. I had already given a significant sum to Govindan because they were feeding me and giving me a nice place to stay.

Mother didn’t want to take the money, so I had to leave it on the floor in the kitchen. I also left some money for daughter and then Govindan, Shyam and I left for Tamil Nadu. A couple days after our return, and after the grace of Ramu, the Swami’s attendant called me to his room. Swami was just finishing the morning puja when I walked in. Mother and daughter were there along with some others.

The Swami welcomed me and I paid my respects to all. Mother and daughter were standing and the Swami was seated near the shrine. Swami said, “Mother has something to tell you.” I looked at Mother and her eyes revealed the depth of her emotion. The Swami spoke and said, “Mother wants you to know that she used the money that you gave her and bought these earrings. I have blessed these earrings, and Mother wants me to give these earrings to you and then she wants you to hand the earrings to her.”

I was overjoyed. The Swami placed these teeney, tiny, gold and diamond earrings on a flower, and handed them to me. Then I handed the flower with the earrings to Mother. Mother put them in her ears immediately and she was nearly shining. Daughter had bought a gold nose-pin with her money and so the same process was repeated for daughter. She also seemed quite happy. It was fun for me.

Then Swami said, “Mother has something else to tell you.” I looked at Mother and it seemed that she was about to cry. Swami said, “Mother wants you to know that no one has ever done such a wonderful thing for her. Mother says that men have always cursed her and abused her. Mother says that this is the best thing that has ever happened to her.”

I was stunned. I looked at Mother and I’ll never forget the look on her face. Suddenly I realized – they don’t say her name. She lives on the concrete floor in this primitive kitchen. She and daughter don’t even eat with us. She got this little bit of money and she wants me to know that this is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to her. I was shocked. I could barely believe this. I can’t begin to explain how I felt.

As everyone was leaving, the Swami asked me to stay. I was really, really sad. I sat down next to him and he said: “Michael, don’t give these people anymore money.” If you want to give someone money, give it to me.”

My very limited patience began to wear thin. I tried to explain that I had given Mother and daughter just a little bit of money and that I gave money to Govindan because he had built a room and was feeding me and everything. Swami said, “Govindan is a retired railway station master. He gets Rupees 1800 every month. Don’t give them any money. If you want to give money, give it to me.” He went on to say that he had some kind of trust set up and that he already had $700 and that everything was all worked out. I told him that I understood, bowed and left the room. I knew that I needed to get away from this Swami; but I couldn’t go home just yet…

The Guru Came As Ramu – Part I: By Michael Bowes


Michael Bowes is well known to us as an authentic and genuine and a very experienced yogi and a devotee of Sri Bhagavan Ramana. Internationally, he is well travelled and has been to India. He has visited various Ashrams and Gurus and Swamis in both the U.S. and abroad.

Michael has an uncanny ability to see to the heart of the matter and his spiritual insights pierce through the veils of sentimentality and conceptual baggage. Michael is a long term member of the HarshaSatsangh community and his presence has been a gift.

Given below is a three part story from Michael about his visit to a Swami in India. This is Part I.


By Sri Michael Bowes

In the spring of 1992 I met a Swami who was making his first trip to the United States. By the time I met him he had been in the States for about two months and had already developed quite a following. It was easy to understand why so many people were following him because wherever he was many unusual things would occur. I myself witnessed several mystical events.

In late June he returned to India and several of us wanted to go there to see him. About a year later, I received a letter from the Swami. I knew that he had been living an itinerant life, often moving from one place to another; but the letter stated that he had established an ashram in the countryside of South India and he invited me to come and spend some time. I began making arrangements and in early October of 1994 I was on my way.

I landed in Madras where I was going to spend about a week before going to the Swami’s ashram in the interior. And even though I had many Indian friends who had given me a lot of advice about negotiating my way through this foreign culture, I soon realized that nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered. I was truly shocked by the situation.

Anytime I left my hotel room I was besieged by beggars, scam artists, rickshaw wallas, lepers, guides and touts. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to make any of them happy. If I paid an outrageous amount to a rickshaw walla to try to help, they responded by begging for more. The hassles and troubles went on and on and on.

I decided that I needed to get out of Madras earlier than planned and I called my contact in the interior. I explained what was happening and he told me to take the train to the town that was closest to the ashram. The hassles continued; but in a couple of days I was on the train to the interior.

I was greeted at the train station by my contact. His name was Shyam. He had a car and driver and we went to the ashram that was on a farm owned by a wonderful old man named Govindan and his family. It was a beautiful, peaceful place and they had just built a new room for me. They showed me my room and then we ate.

It was a tremendous relief to be there with these kind and gentle people. I had arrived earlier than planned and the Swami wasn’t there; but he was coming in a few days. While we were waiting for the Swami, we decided to take a trip and we went to Ramana Ashram, Aurobindo Ashram, and Auroville. It was a great trip and I wasn’t nearly as hassled because I was always surrounded by three or four Indians.

When we returned to the farm, the Swami was there and it was really great to see him. We talked and he gave me some instructions and I just settled into the daily routine. Govindan had built a small temple, complete with a tank and flower gardens. Every day we would arise and Govindan would go around the farm picking flowers for his morning puja (worship). The Swami also performed a very elaborate morning puja in his room. I didn’t talk to the Swami much. He was a man of few words. He didn’t even eat with us. But I would visit with him a little every day.

After a few days the word spread that an American was staying at the ashram and people started coming from all around to see me. On some days there were people lined up outside of my door to talk to me. They were curious about a lot of things. Primarily they wanted to know how to make money. But they also wanted to know how they could move to America, or they wanted to know how to sell goods in America. Some of them just wanted to talk to an American. And occasionally someone would ask about how to reach God-realization.

I couldn’t help them with any of that; but I listened and talked and generally found everyone to be quite pleasant. One day a whole group of children came and they couldn’t speak any English; but they had brought me a gift of some peanuts and they just hung out with me staring and laughing and giggling. They were very sweet.

About the time that the crowds of people thinned out, a new visitor, a starving dog arrived. A medium sized, starving black dog parked himself outside my door and didn’t leave for a couple of days. Govindan had three dogs and the Swami had a dog; but this dog didn’t hang out with the other dogs. Somehow this dog must have known that I was a Westerner and he must have thought that I could help him. But actually, he was there to help me.

When I would leave the room he would just lay there and look at me, and when I would come back – there he was. He would never leave and he was in very bad shape. His condition was very distressing. But he never bothered me. He never tried to come into the room. He just hung out at my door like a statue. His condition was so bad that I had to do something. So I told Govindan that a starving dog was hanging out at my door and that it was disturbing to me. Govindan laughed and said, “That’s not a starving dog. That is Ramu. He’s a dog from the village.”

I said that Ramu looked like he was starving to me and I told Govindan that I was going to talk to the Swami about using his car to go to a nearby large town to buy dog food for him.

I found the Swami and I asked him to come to see Ramu. I showed the dog to him and asked if he would allow his driver to take me to town to buy food for the dog.

The Swami said, “This dog is not starving”.

I said, “How can you say the dog isn’t starving? Just look at him you can see every bone in his body”.

The Swami said, “If the dog is starving then it is his karma to starve.”

“If the dog’s karma caused him to starve, then it is my karma to feed him”, I said.

The Swami relented and allowed his driver to take me to town. Shyam and Govindan went with me. I scoured the town for dog food. I found out that they didn’t really sell dog food; but I managed to find three big boxes of dog biscuits that were made of very nutritious ingredients. By the time we got back to the ashram, dinner was being served. I grabbed a few dog biscuits out of the box, left the rest in the car, ran to my room and gave them to Ramu. Then I ate supper.

After I ate, I went to get the dog biscuits out of the car; but they weren’t there anymore. I asked Govindan what happened to the dog biscuits and he said that the Swami had taken them and put them in his own room. I was dumb struck. The Swami had taken the dog biscuits – what kind of deal was that? His dog was nice and fat. They fed his dog every day like a king and yet he had appropriated the dog biscuits that I had bought for Ramu.

I was not happy. But it was too late that night to do anything about the situation, so I went to my room to meditate and sleep.

When I got to my room Ramu was gone. In fact, I never saw Ramu again. I guess it was a good thing because I didn’t have to confront the Swami about the dog biscuits. I didn’t need them anymore because Ramu was gone. This whole incident began to show me what the Swami was really like. I thought that it was very strange that Ramu should have come and gone in such a mysterious way. Why did he come and hang out at my door? And why did he just suddenly leave? I came to believe that the guru had come in the form of Ramu to begin to unmask the Swami. But I can assure you that it was only the beginning of the unmasking…..

To be continued……….
Love to all,