By Scott Shaw
As you may or may not know, I am a bit of a bibliophile. I collect books. My main quest is for rare Eastern Metaphysical and spiritually based writings. In any case, I came upon a book being offered online created around photographs of my teacher, Swami Satchidananda, titled, Sri Swami Satchidananda: Portrait of a Modern Sage. I was drawn to the book for two reasons, it was signed and it was a hardcover copy which is apparently hard to come by. It was bit pricy, but whatever, I bought it. The fact is, I never even knew about this book. It was published in 1996 but I guess I just never came across a copy.
In any case, I ordered it and it arrived. I unpack it and I opened it up to a random page. Damn, there I am! A photograph with me, the L.A. crew, and Gurudev on page 135. I was both extremely happy and shocked. I obviously knew about this photograph and I clearly remember the day it was taken. But wow, what a flood of memories.
Swami Satchidananda and his teachings were a very essential part of my adolescent years, early adult years, and my spiritual upbringing. I have written about experiences I had with him in various other places, most notably in the book, Zen: Tales from the Journey. But, to be cast back like this, it was quite a happy shock.
Above that photograph is another photograph where it is the back of the disciple’s heads, as Gurudev was in the foreground. My head is there too. But, you’d only know it if you knew what the back of my long blonde-haired head looked like back then. 🙂 That photo was taken during one of the very intimate satsangs we would have with him on Saturday nights at the ashram in Santa Barbara when he was in town.
I was Swami Satchidananda’s soundman for a number of years. Back then, spirituality was very high on the minds of the masses. (Not now). So, he used to give a lot of lectures. I would pack my equipment up in my ’76 Dodge van and travel to, set up, and recorder the words he spoke. Man, so many memories from those experiences… He was a wise teacher. At these small satsangs, however, he didn’t need a mic. I did record some of them for posterity but not all. Obviously, the one portrayed in the photograph, I did not.
I really think if you truly hope to learn anything from a teacher you need to develop a personal relationship with them. You really need to be close enough to them to come to understand who they truly are. From this, you gain the complex understanding of what it takes to be a good human being, while remaining centered on spirituality. Too many people, I believe, cast their faith to those that are unmeetable as they are no longer in their human body. From this, myth is born. Is myth the truth? Usually not.
A couple of pages deeper in the book, page 138, if you look really hard you can see me again in and amongst the disciples. It was outside on a rainy day and it was the inauguration of the Santa Barbara ashram. My face is partially blocked by another disciple but my IYI (integral Yoga Institute) friend Hari is behind me, Uma is a bit in front. Shiva was in the photo as was Jadhana, and the list goes on. The funny thing is, at least to me, is that in the photograph all eyes are on Gurudev but I was obviously saying something to the girl I had brought with me, Carol. A girl who I had met at the Sufi Dances and was totally infatuated with at the time. I thought if there was a woman worth giving up bramacharya for, she was it. 🙂 I joked to a person I showed the book to, “All eyes were on the guru but my eyes were on the girl.” That’s funny now but back then I was seriously devolved to the formal spiritual lifestyle. If you feel like it, you can read a story about that day, and my interaction with that girl and the spiritual group, also in the book, Zen: Tales from the Journey.
Those were good and important times for me…
The last time I actually interacted with Gurudev was when I was twenty-four. By this point I had fallen away from the IYI as I felt the people in control of the group had become a little bit too full of themselves. I had gone to India, did what I did there, had returned and was going to grad school. It had been a few years but, out of the blue, I received a call from Padma asking me if I would/could do the sound for a lecture Gurudev was giving. I accepted.
I got the equipment together, brought my beautiful Spanish via Cuba girlfriend with me, (yes, I had left bramacharya behind), and it was an overall great experience. It had been a few years since I had seen Gurudev by that point and he kept joking, “Who’s this, who’s this,” in regard to me. The day went as the day went. I never saw him in person again.
It was a great memory churner to discover this book. I am sure that there are a lot of other photographs out there of me in association with Gurudev—photographs I will probably never see. Me, I never carried a camera back then. Just living in the moment and all… But, the memories are there.
From my point of view, most people just pass through their life, grabbing at whatever they can to keep themselves in a state of unsecured momentary happiness. They move from one thing to the next, one desire to the next, attempting to hold on to something that they cannot define. Few people attempt to find deeper meaning. I think that is sad. I believe that you must first know yourself, then study yourself, removing as many obstacles and bad qualities from yourself as possible, and then move forward into the greater MORE. How you do this, is your choice. For me, at least in my early years, it was defined by Swami Satchidanada and the Sufi Order.
Life is a funny thing. But, if we do not attempt to make ourselves more and better and do good things for other people, what does it all mean?
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