On Pilgrimage with SRV Youth

The highlight of last winter’s pilgrimage to India for me, without a doubt, was being in the company of three of our SRV teens, Marleigh, Logan, and Adam.  What wonderful conversations and classes we had on Vivekananda, the yamas and niyamas of Yoga, the nature of the Self, embodiment and the world. How fascinating to see India through their sense of adventure and openness. 

It was gratifying to watch 13- and 15-year-olds memorize and discuss the “Song of the Sannyasin” with each other and the adults, and then recite it on demand whenever Babaji asked. They were wonderful helpers on and off trains and planes, and they were certainly entertaining: From Adam singing Hungarian folk songs to his Hindu and Russian train compartment-mates, to Logan’s hilarious monologues, and Marleigh’s very dry, understated humor that could easily pass one by if you weren’t paying attention.  I’ll never forget the three of them feeding monkeys off the balcony in my room — an activity that is both comical and risky — or the elation on the faces of Logan and Adam after being surrounded by the village kids out in the fields of Kamarpukur. I was completely inspired by their willingness to get up at 4:30am for a brisk walk to the temple for meditation and their eagerness for Babaji’s classes.

Meeting with the swamis was enhanced many-fold by their poignant, intelligent questions and the swamis responded in kind, preparing them with teachings pertinent to their time in life, circumstances, and temperaments, while holding the goal of spiritual life high for them to aspire to.  Before our first meeting, which happened in Chandigarh with Swami Brahmeshananda, we told the kids to prepare some questions.  From then on, they were prepared for every other meeting we had: Swami Shantatmananda in Delhi, Swami Chidananda (from the Krishnamurti center in Varanasi), Swami Bodhasarananda at Advaita Ashrama, and Swami Ameyananda at Holy Mother’s birthplace, Jayarambati.

Here are some notes of a few exchanges:

SRV Youth: What is the difference between Mahat (Cosmic Mind) and manas (dual mind)?
Swami: The universe is made on the same plan as we are: body, mind, prana.  There is the macrocosmic and the microcosmic.  By spiritual practice you can commune with the Cosmic mind. Think of it!  You are communing with the Cosmic mind — the whole of everything.  Manas is so small but if you get it in tune with the whole of Mind you can know all little minds. 

SRV Youth: How do I have detachment as a student?  There’s these obligations I have.  I can’t turn away from them; I’d be punished.
Swami:  How old are you?  15?  This is the time when you are in training.  In the Indian view this is when you build character.  You strive to never lie, to not take anything without asking, maintain sexual purity, and be nonviolent.  You don’t have to worry about renunciation at this age.  You build your character.  You do your studies with concentration.  When working, the mind concentrates with the help of the senses, but when meditating, one concentrates without the senses.

SRV Youth:  Is it okay to have a lot of stress at this age?
Swami: You are young.  You can handle it.  This is your time of training. You should work hard.

SRV Youth:  How do you enjoy things without engaging in kashaya vritti [attachment to pleasure]?
Swami:  You have to have full detachment in order to enjoy anything fully.  Be able to enjoy and turn away at will.

SRV Youth: How do I practice detachment as a student?
Swami: Your question should be deeply personal.  There are people who just ask a question to ask a question.  If you really care about it, then when you hear the answer you will be moved by it and will work at it.  Why do you want this high goal?
SRV Youth: Because everything else is so distracting.
Swami: Yes, yes.  These distractions are here.  And why are they so distracting?  Because in your mind you think you get more satisfaction from them than from spiritual bliss.  You are practicing meditation and some other thought occurs and you follow it because it seems more attracting.  Everyone is dealing with this question, whether householder or monk, not just students.  When this question is solved, that is realization.  For now, do your duties but remain focused on the goal (Self-realization) and the rest will fall away naturally like the palm frond in due time.  You should work hard in school for good grades and also keep devotion and detachment in mind.

SRV Youth: How do I get beyond the selfishness of doing good actions in order to have good karma?
Swami: When you do good actions in the spirit (practice) of karma yoga, you will over time see more and more subtle layers of the ego.  Seeing this, you will strive to overcome and transcend this. This is the way we proceed.

SRV Youth: Why is it that on one day I have a good meditation and then the next day I don’t?
Swami: At the outset meditation is not a process, but a daily practice.  Establish a routine and stick to it.  Soon your meditations will be blissfully neutral, free of these ups and downs.