Master of the Word!

Once upon an autumn day, in a charming vale high in the Himalaya, I approached the King of the World with a question. “What’s a Master of the Word?” I asked Him.

He said, “A lad of honest intention should suffer no illusions; I’ll answer your question for you. But first, take this bucket. Fill it with water from yonder well, for I thirst, like you. Bring it back and let us take tea, slowly, with no hurry or worry.”

His subtly inclusive words warmed me, his nuance intrigued. I took the bucket and set foot to path that I might promptly serve his request, neither pausing in my haste, nor worried by the answer I’d already received. I moved with the alacrity of the inspired and purpose filled my stride.

At the well I marveled at the quaint, cast-iron pump and the gentle trickle of water that my efforts at its helm produced. I dwelt idly on the murmurs of the brook, hearing in its song the answer to questions yet unasked. I watched it meander through the village blessing the local culture, and I fancied that no amount of innovation could add even a farthing of value to this little slice of heaven.

Then a pair of eyes looked back at me – the fairest eyes I’d ever known. They called to me like a siren, or worse, a Juliet. Tie me to my mission; a siren’s charms hold nary sway. Alas Love! Well, that’s a vision to dampen any man’s integrity, and I dropped that bucket where I stood.

Twelve years passed in bliss since I dropped that bucket nigh. My children danced upon it when they found it where it lie. My wife, that vixen, held me fast to breast and thigh. Wits abandoned, I was a shipwrecked Captain Bligh!

Then I was recalled, like a Roman ventured too far into Arthurian mists. Trumpets sounded regally and I read the crest upon their unfurled banners – Master of the Word! I fairly wept.

When I returned with our water, the King had hardly aged a day. “Such is the nature of illusion.” He said. “Now come and let us take our tea.”

Swami Vinayagananda

The first time I met the Jnani was at his home in a small village in the Himalayas. I had travelled with a small group of fellow seekers in search of answers to the mysteries of life. I was 24 years old.

We stayed at the old ascetic’s hermitage for a couple of weeks and everyday he entertained us with discourse on God, or the nature of existence, self and the human condition. I always sat at the back of the room, watching and listening intently. The way he used words impressed me no end. I never asked a question, never expressed myself overtly in any way, neither during the discourse nor at any other time. I simply watched and listened intently. I was on a mission.

To digress briefly, I left the States when I was 17 burning with questions and in search of the meaning of life. After a short stint in Jerusalem, I made my way to Japan and in short order was introduced in a quaint witch’s enclave to an old mystic calling himself the Jupiter King who, to make a long story short, gifted me with, I kid you not, about 500 books on practically every spiritual, occult and philosophical topic you might imagine. I took those books and ensconced myself in a cave for three years, teaching myself to meditate and learning the arts of this and that. When I emerged, Nature greeted me with the synchronicity that would take me to my destiny. One evening while I was sitting in a park sharing a beer with some mates after work, Peter Pan herself flew in to ask me to play. The next thing I knew I was on a Cessna to the Kullu Valley.

Over the course of the first four days at the Master’s hermitage, when my mind was busy correlating whatever he happened to be talking about with something I had experienced or read about in my cave, questions would invariably rise up in my head. The Swami literally embodied everything I’d read about, spoke from a place of deep identification with those ideas I’d poured over in the texts, and modeling the greater reality in his every gesture, he teased my own reality with a mysterious twinkle in his eye. I never voiced my questions, but Vinayagananda would often stop abruptly mid-discourse, look directly at me and answer whatever happened to be on my mind at that particular moment. The tenth time this happened I resolved to wake up early the next morning when he rose to make the fire and approach him for the first time to ask how it was he was reading my mind. And so I did.

It was 4am when I met him that morning before the tandoor. He’d already prepared two cups of chai in preparation for my arrival and kindly, matter-of-factly gestured for me to sit in front of the fire with him and share tea. “Babaji, are you inside me?” It was the only way I knew how to phrase it. And He answered.

“You see, David. When a man hears the truth, it rings inside his heart like a bell.”

He repeated the same phrase twice. We took the rest of our tea in silence and just sat there together watching the dawn through a small window above the tandoor until the others woke up.

That evening we all gathered around in the Master’s private chambers to listen some more. Feeling a little more intimate now, I came closer sitting myself at the foot of his cot. A student of his and his wife sat directly in front of me while the several others of our small band made themselves comfortable here and there around the room, one leaning up against the altar, another sat at the master’s feet packing hashish and tobacco into cigarettes. The joints were for him; they weren’t passed around. Not there. Tea and comforts were for the veranda. We were there to listen and learn something if possible.

Swamy Vinayagananda

Although I do have a notebook full of scribblings from that trip, I don’t recall at the time of this writing the subject of the particular discourse, but that it had something to do with the hindrances of mind and that the master was directing his words at that student who sat in front of me. I recall his tone to be of both stern and gentle reproach, but the content escapes me. I only recall the Dragon – that’s the only way I know how to describe Her – as vividly as if I’d witnessed Her yesterday.

Sometime into the discourse Vinayagananda had called for a young lady to come sit herself down at the foot of the cot adjacent to the student and his wife. She faced towards the group while the Master made some subtle gestures behind her whispering something into the wind. The air stilled tangibly and shimmered obviously. Silence fell upon us like heavy drapes and wisps of the mystic joined the tendrils of incense wafting through the space around us. The girl at the foot of the bed began to sway. Her limbs swayed as if she were a boneless marionette on strings. Shiva’s own Tandava seemed to be playing out in her dance. And then her face took on a gruesome countenance and she violently lashed out at the student. The master growled preternaturally behind Her and She pulled back. I was awestruck to witness this and began to chant the first phrase of succor to come to mind. “It’s only God. It’s only God. It’s all God”. Whatever I was telling myself from deep within my faith, I was also whispering to the student’s wife. Her worry for her husband’s safety was tangible, but while there was quite clearly something ominous at play here, I’d already begun to clue to the fact that Vinayagananda was a Master of the highest order and that meant that we were actually in good hands, safe, protected in his sphere.

The Dragon however did not enjoy my confidence at all and turned Her venom on me lashing out with her claws to scratch at my face. Shocked, I continued to chant anyway and in a matter of moments the Dragon was gone along with the shimmer, the Silence lifted and I began to hear again. Vinayagandana gestured once more that the girl take her place again among the group and while I followed her with my eye she seemed to be completely unaware that she had just been made to play such an interesting role. In fact, none of the others around us seemed to have witnessed anything at all judging by the expressions on their faces. Only the wife who was shaking and in tears had seen something. The student himself was idle, or stoic, or something I simply can’t know. As for me, I was mind-blown on several levels, hardly able to convey eloquently even twenty-seven years later. I didn’t speak to Vinayagananda again for the next ten days, but just watched and listened intently. Neither did he answer any more questions which would often arise within me. His mission had already been accomplished. Mine was just starting.

Several months later I would return to that hamlet and begin my life on the path of the Tantrik Yogin.