I think of Satchidananada as I'm trying to dispel insomnia, which leads me back to this obsession I seem to have with moments in my past. One of which is the times in the mid 1970s when I would accompany my parents to hear his lectures here in Boston. I have two distinct memories of him, although maybe those have been distorted by time and stories from my parents. One is jumping out of my parents' parked car and running on the sidewalk shouting: "Satchi, were here!" and him laughing back at me from a doorway entrance. Another is sitting on his lap amid a crowd of people. Both moments stand out in my memory as genuinely happy and powerful in a very plain, everyday manner.
I've only tried doing Yoga once, in college, and I found it pleasant. So much that I fell asleep while lying on the mat toward the end of class. But I despise Yoga's hipness and the Orientalism that permeates most American approaches to Yoga, Buddhism and other spiritual practices.
Anytime I read Satchidananda, his teachings seem true, particularly when it comes to his notion of what it means to teach and learn. A text of his at his website reflects my own philosophy of teaching:
"The Guru should not think that he or she is a Guru. But, the disciple should think of himself or herself as a disciple. It is the disciple that makes the Guru. When you see something beautiful in someone and when you want to learn from that person, then he or she becomes your teacher. The person should not come and say, "Hey, I am your teacher; learn from me." No genuine teacher will ever say that. If asked the question, "Are you my teacher?" they would say, "Well, I don't know. You should know that. If you are learning something from me, maybe I am your teacher then. If you are not learning anything, then I am not your teacher." As long as the disciple wants to learn, it's fine. If the disciple feels, "I am not really satisfied with this teaching; I would like to go to someone else," then, fine; go. There is no bond. A teacher, a Guru, is there not to bind the disciple, but to free the disciple."
("What is a Guru?")
Until this morning, I'd never bothered to look more closely at the word "guru," which I always simply translated as "teacher." But I just found out that "Gu" means "darkness" and "ru" means "remover."
I found out about Satchidananda's death from my mother, the week he died in August of 2002. She had noticed his obituary in the New York Times and gave it to me. We didn't say much about it. Neither of my parents really have anything to say about him or the time they spent with him. Neither of them reject that time and the few comments they've made about him have always been positive. I'm probably the only one in my family who continues to return to Satchidananda, somehow imagining there's something in his teachings that can offer guidance and peace.
I had often thought of seeking him out, making some effort to ask him questions about anger or failure or love or breath. A loud truck goes by outside my windows, followed by the world's loudest and most inefficient subway trolley (the B green line that screetches along Commonwealth Avenue like a hyena screaming while being torn apart by lions) and I shoot the finger in their direction. The loud noises of the city feel like so much death & violence to me. This morning, the city outside seems to be particularly violent. Vibrations, intuition or subconscious awareness are real and I've never doubted their existence. And that's at the core of this dilemma I have with spiritual progress: I don't see it as a viable presence among humans, at least not anywhere around me. Or at least in my own life. I can sense moments or memories of it, or perhaps read about it and believe it, but we (or I) have long ago reached certain walls that cannot be avoided.
I write about this because it exists in my life, Satchidananda is a recurring presence for me. But I also write about it to acknowledge the presence of anger & violence in life and how these really seem like the central facets of existence. I know I don't have faith in any guru. Maybe I have hope, or some of my utopian affinities still flicker to life at times.
I don't know when exactly anger became such a central presence in my life. I do know that when I first listened to Never Mind the Bollocks in 8th grade (on vinyl) it was just as much of a revelation as running towards Satchidananda on a sidewalk in Cambridge years earlier. Autobiography as a dispersal, as a way to acknowledge and disappear ghosts.