Walking with Swamiji
By Elonne Stockton
I just visited Kaivalyadhama in Lonavla, outside Pune, India. Our teacher Sri O.P. Tiwariji not only lives there but is one of the main guiding forces behind the institution, second only to his late teacher Swami Kuvalayananda. Their presence fills every corner of the ashram. They hold the place with care and love, so that when you enter it is like coming home to find your parents and grandparents waiting for you with outstretched arms. You immediately feel safe and supported.
The land around Lonavla is very similar to the elevated region just north of my birthplace in Phoenix, Arizona, especially this time of year. Although the days can heat up into a dry 70-80 Farenheit (about 21-27 Celcius), the evenings and early mornings can be quite chilly. If I let my eyes blur slightly and my mind soften, I couldn’t be sure of my time and place, as soothing memories carried me away to distant spaces.
While I was there Tiwariji was working tirelessly – with the energy and passion of a man in his 30’s — on Swami Kuvalayananda’s biography, which is due to come out this month. Even on Sunday I found Tiwariji working in his office.
“Don’t you get a day off?” I asked. “Anyway, I am always working,” he replied. Now in his 80’s, Tiwariji could easily rest, and nobody would ever question it, but he doesn’t choose to.
“Once I surrendered to him,” Tiwariji confessed pointing to the picture of Swami Kuvalayananda above his desk; “that was it.”
During my stay I read Vision and Wisdom, a collection of Swami Kuvalayananda’s letters. Reading the words he penned you can get a clear idea of his scholarship, his sense of the responsibility and the extreme care that he put into Kaivalyadhama, into their centers around India, into every relationship he had with his students.
It is the same sense of conviction and drive I see in Tiwariji, and it is what I see in Paul. By knowing them I am also meeting Swamiji.
Swami Kuvalayanandaji was a man of great knowledge and influence. He taught people like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru, but not even Tiwariji ever knew about any of this until much later.
“So humble. He never told us,” Tiwariji recalled. He went on to explain that after Swamiji’s death they found countless letters, including the exchanges between Swamiji and Gandhi. Krishnamacharya was another one of the many well-known characters that came to visit Swami Kuvalayananda.
Humility is another character trait that Tiwariji shares with Swami Kuvalayananda. “That is why we say we know this much,” Tiwariji said as he made Jnana Mudra with his hand. The gesture illustrates that we know as much as what can fit in the tiny space between the thumb and the index fingers. So, not much!
As Paul has said, “I’ll tell you what I know. I know to get up, I know to practice what I have learned . . . and I know to finish it! I know to eat and to get on with the day.“
As I move along this path my gratitude only grows stronger. I am not only grateful for these practices but also for the guidance that extends far beyond the tools of practice. It becomes increasingly clear to me how lucky and blessed we all are to have precise and straightforward guidance, coming from a tested and solid lineage. I know how rare that is.
I hiked into the hills that belong to Kaivalyadhama, where many decades ago Swamiji carved a cave into the side of the hill. The path was overgrown; there was no clear trail. But after having been shown the way once I was able to find my way back to the cave. Because of the years Swamiji and others tread on the path, although their footprints were long gone their impressions were still there.
In a similar way, people like Swami Kuvalayananda and Tiwariji have devoted their lives to yoga, keeping up these practices, maintaining the lineage so that we still have their path to follow. The path is not always straight forward, nor is it easy. And the mind is often overgrown and messy like the path to Swamiji’s cave. You are not likely to have someone holding your hand, guiding you every step of the way. But that is not necessarily how you grow and progress. If you have a teacher the guidance is there nonetheless.
Swamiji passed on – and Tiwariji continues to pass on — these ancient teachings, which have been proven to work, so that there is clear guidance long after impermanence and rigarmortous take hold. And people like Paul continue in the tradition of Tiwariji and Swamiji, teaching the practices undiluted.
The only prerequisite on the path is that we can see beyond the weeds of our preconceived ideas, beyond the overgrown brush of our relentless egos. Without a teacher we are left to our own devices. The path is treacherous without a teacher along the way; we cannot go it alone.
So we simply continue to “get up and practice” what we “have learned” from our teacher(s), with humble gratitude and with the conviction of those who have tread the path before us so we are not left to wander aimlessly. And then we “eat” and we “get on with the day.”