Every year in October the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation celebrates the life and teachings of Eknath Easwaran. Last year, the folks at the BMCM lovingly invited their remote friends, among whom I gratefully count myself, to participate in the festivities. These included an optional Life Celebration Curriculum for studying Easwaran’s teachings and one’s relationship to them. The curriculum consisted of three “modules”, each with a variety of ways to engage with and reflect on Easwaran’s eight-point program.
To facilitate a one-pointed experience of the curriculum, I took a personal retreat day to a nature center and arboretum close to where I live. I spent the day reading and reflecting on Easwaran’s teachings, using the parts of the curriculum that inspired me. The writings that follow represent part of my reflections from that day. I have included the titles of the modules and questions I used from the curriculum.
Looking back nearly a year on these writings, I realize how much my devotion to Easwaran and the eight-point program has grown in a relatively short time. I believe that taking time to participate, even in a small way, in the Life Celebration Curriculum has been a catalyst for that growth. Mantrams for your journey!
Module One: Read and Study Easwaran’s Article, “The Need for a Teacher”
Question #1: What strikes you about this article, and how does it relate to your own life?
What struck me most is Easwaran’s injunction to go slow and to allow my body, mind and will to develop the strength and resiliency necessary to continue to progress on the path, even as the challenges increase. I tend to be impatient with the pace of my progress, so I’m grateful for Easwaran’s reminder that trying to force or rush spiritual growth is dangerous.
In practice, going slow might mean taking incremental steps in, for example, training the senses. Rather than giving up coffee altogether, for instance, I might try drinking a bit less than I’m used to. Or, for an even smaller but still effective experiment, I could choose a different mug, leaving my preferred one in the cupboard for another day. I have tried both of these options recently, and have found I was able to loosen up my preferences just a bit. As Easwaran teaches, juggling my likes and dislikes in one area makes is easier for me to do it in other areas. I have discovered, since I implemented the two experiments above, that my preferences in things like deciding where to eat when my family orders takeout have become more flexible. I’m learning that it can be liberating when asked for my opinion about where to eat or what to listen to on the radio, to say simply, “I don’t have a strong preference,” or, “I’ll let you pick.”
Just the other day I was having lunch with some of my coworkers, and although I had already chosen my entree I began to doubt my choice as I listened to them discuss what they might order. Pretty quickly, however, I was able to catch my mind in the act and say, “We are going to stick with our first choice, even if their selections sound more enticing.” And while I’m sure it was almost all due to the expertise of the chef, it was one of the best restaurant meals I’ve had in a long time.
To borrow Easwaran’s language, it is the artistry of these small daily decisions that appeals so much to me. More than that, though, it is the stillness of mind that comes from loosening my preferences, even a little bit, that is the real payoff.
Question #2: Easwaran compares the spiritual teacher to a mountain climbing guide. Reflect on your life since you’ve been following Easwaran’s teachings. In what ways have Easwaran's teachings guided you on your journey? Are there specific instances that come to mind?
How do I turn to Easwaran’s teachings for answers? I think what I’m most aware of is that the more I practice the eight points, the clearer the channel is between myself and Easwaran, or myself and my Self. The result of this clearing of the channel is that I seem to have greater access to insight and inspiration to guide my daily living. I want to emphasize daily here. I don’t get visions or inklings of what may happen in the future or what I should do with my life six months from now. What I do get are little nudges here and there that help me know how to move forward from moment to moment: when to take a break at work, how to respond in a tense or confusing situation, what to plan (or not plan!) for a personal retreat day like the one I’m taking right now. While I’m not conscious of turning to Easwaran and his teachings the way I might turn to a friend or mentor for advice on whether to take a new job, I believe that the way I try to live his teachings brings out an inner resource in me that provides guidance often before I even think to ask for it. By bringing me more and more into alignment with life’s essential principles, Easwaran’s eight points serve as midwife to the birth of my divine consciousness.
Module Two: Take Part in the Worldwide Celebration
Option #1: Study the passage “Life of My Life”, asking yourself which lines are particularly meaningful to you, and which qualities you might gain by meditating on it.
The quality that stands out to me in this passage is devotion. It’s a quality I often envy in other spiritual aspirants, particularly those who have a strong attachment to a particular divine incarnation: Krishna, the Buddha, Jesus. Though I grew up in the Christian tradition, in which personal devotion to Jesus is an essential component, I have not often felt a strong connection to any divine figure. In the book The End of Sorrow, Easwaran suggests abandoning the search for our own Divine Ideal and instead placing ourselves humbly at the feet of them all, letting one of them choose us instead. I find this advice comforting and have reminded myself of it many times, especially when I feel discouraged about my apparent lack of devotion. Still, it sometimes seems that the Divine Ideals are taking their time making a decision.
I can say without hesitation, however, that I am devoted to the practice of the eight points, and if what Meera says is true – that the teacher is “the path and the goal” – then my devotion to the teachings is equivalent to devotion to the teacher. As Easwaran himself said, “I live in my eight-point program.” By extension, since Easwaran emphasizes the unity of all paths to God, I can say I am devoted to all teachers of the path. This to me is very much in the spirit of Easwaran, who praised his grandmother as his spiritual teacher, Sri Krishna as his Beloved Boss, Gandhi as a prime example of contemporary spiritual genius and also expressed intense affection and admiration for the Compassionate Buddha and deep respect for Jesus.
Following the example of my teacher, then, I can embrace my own diverse devotion, and if a particular Divine Ideal decides to choose me as his or her own, it will be my pleasure to be at their service.