This past April , at age 90, Brother Bhaktananda passed, and so today I want to talk about Brother, and what we can learn from his life. [Bro. Ishtananda served with Bro. Bhaktananda at Hollywood Temple for many years.]
Even something as mundane as Brother Bhaktananda’s appearance impressed me. He was always immaculately dressed, impeccable…This stemmed from Master; Guruji was always well-dressed and neat…There is a story about a monk in India who always wore an ochre robe of silk instead of the traditional cotton robe. When criticized by others he replied, “The lover always dresses well for the Beloved.” It is the attitude with which you approach the Divine that matters. When you are in any sacred space, enter with an attitude of reverence and devotion so that there will be that receptivity to the vibrations there. The proper attitude puts us in a frame of mind to receive God’s blessings. So even in Brother Bhaktananda’s dress there is a lesson for us.
“The Embodiment of Spiritual Simplicity”
Another quality Brother exemplified was divine Simplicity…He was unencumbered by life because he simplified even little things so as not to waste time. He simplified everything, even eating. “With meals around the ashram it was every man for himself,” Brother Ishtananda reminisced. “One morning I made myself a bowl of hot cornmeal. Then I noticed some cream cheese, so I put some of that on top. Then I found some syrup, so I stirred in some of that too, and then sat down to eat. A few minutes later Brother Bhaktananda came into the room and started heating up some cornmeal. I thought he might appreciate hearing about my new-found discovery and so I said, ‘If you put some cream cheese and syrup on top it makes it really good!’ My suggestion drew no response from Brother. ‘I’m not trying to tell you what to do but it really does make the cornmeal taste better,’ I continued. Finally, Brother Bhaktananda looked over at me and said, ‘Thank you. Information is always accepted; whether or not it’s acted upon is another matter.’” (Laughter)
Brother kept his life very simple; not just his outer life, but his spiritual life, too. He got down to the essence of the teachings. Simplicity frees you up for the pursuit of God. In simplicity is the profound.
“The Mind is for Focus and Practice”
Most of all, Brother realized it’s about practicing the teachings. In reading the Lessons, whenever he came across something he could practice, he would put a “P” in the margin as a reminder to practice the teaching. Sometimes he would actually write it out on an index card and carry it around in his pocket for a week as a reminder to practice that particular teaching. Brother was very practical that way. “The mind is not for philosophy; it is for focus and practice,” he said. ….
Brother always emphasized the importance of spending time in the stillness. When restlessness came in meditation he would talk to his mind: “Be still … go deeper … relax.” That is how you gain control of the mind and consciousness. He used the mind to talk to the mind and to control the mind. During the practice of Kriya he would talk to the mind to keep the mind in the spine.
A couple of weeks before his passing, two monks came to visit Brother. He was in bed at that time, and after they had talked for a little while he said, “Now it’s time for a little rest” … and just like that Brother was asleep. He could do that because he had perfected that complete and total control over his consciousness.
Brother… was tireless, and he gave himself fully in selfless service to helping others. During the day at some point he might put his head down on his desk for ten minutes or so. “If you can just touch the subconscious for ten minutes, then you can keep going,” he would say. “That’s all you need. Tell the mind to relax, be still. That is how you gain control of your mind and consciousness.” ….
Brother said, “Whatever we apply our consciousness to, it becomes so.” The manifesting power of concentration comes from centering the mind on one thing at a time. Remember this, and most of all, remember it during practice of Kriya.
Brother’s simple approach to every aspect of life gave him a unique way of conveying the teachings in a simple, direct way. One time the monks were watching a fascinating movie entitled, “The Universe”. Afterwards they started asking Brother questions about the film, and one of them asked, “If the physical universe is so vast, how does this relate to Spirit?” Brother answered, “It’s like a sponge in water; the sponge is in the water, and the water is in the sponge.” It was such a great and simple explanation.
“Read and Study Master’s Teachings Regularly”
Brother always focused on the essentials of the teachings. He stressed that we should read and study Master’s teachings regularly, especially the Lessons. “Read a few pages every day,” he would say. “Leave the Lessons out on your desk opened, and then when you are walking by you will have them right there in front of you to study.” This was the kind of very simple, practical advice Brother gave.
Brother was especially big on Whispers from Eternity, Metaphysical Meditations, and Scientific Healing Affirmations. In one letter of response to a lady devotee who had sought counseling on how to help her two grown children – a son with alcoholism and a daughter with depression – Brother gave very simple, straightforward, practical advice that both the son and daughter should read Whispers from Eternity and Metaphysical Meditations. These two writings of Master, Brother explained, would help to change the son’s consciousness and put positive ideas in his mind, and would uplift the daughter and give her positive ideas to think about and make her happy if she would accept them sincerely.
Nowadays we hear about “cognitive therapy”. What is it? Cognitive therapy is a kind of psychotherapy that promotes mental health by focusing on a person’s thinking and how to reprogram their thinking. This is just what Master and Brother Bhaktananda were advising all these years! We can use Master’s teachings to reprogram our thinking and to break bad habits, and this makes us more positive-thinking.
Brother had absolute evenmindedness; he was unflappable. Over the years he encountered all kinds of situations with all different kinds of people. Especially here in Hollywood, the “entertainment capital of the world”, you get all kinds of “entertainment” coming through the gate. (Laughter) But Brother always came from that center of calmness he had attained.
Brother Ishtananda told us a story: One time he had just finished ushering a wedding ceremony at Hollywood Temple, and he sat down in front of the altar to meditate for a few minutes. Brother Bhaktananda was in an adjoining room filling out the paperwork for the marriage certificate. (Brother never had a secretary.) Suddenly this guy comes off the street into the Temple and grabs a lamp and starts bashing the picture of Christ on the altar!
Brother Bhaktananda, no doubt hearing the loud commotion going on from the adjoining room, quietly entered the Temple and calmly approached the young man.
“May I help you?” he said. (Laughter)
Looking at the picture of Jesus, the man sobbed, “He doesn’t love me!!”
“Let’s talk,” Brother said, and he ushered the man into the minister’s room.
Lovingly, but firmly, Brother told him, “You are upset and you need to calm down. First you get off drugs, then get a job, find a place to live, and then you start coming to services.” Just like that! Because Brother was in his calm center, he could do the right thing at the right time.
Brother Bhaktananda used to say, “We have to be casual about everything that happens to us during the day.” Even in that extreme situation Brother didn’t react, but just calmly offered his service to that young man … “May I help you?” This was Brother’s “Standard Operating System”. In all kinds of circumstances in life he always remained calm and evenminded – and it was also how he was able to have deep meditations.
Christ said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The heart refers to the feelings – chitta – the heart’s feelings. Yoga has to do with control of the feelings – likes and dislikes. Brother had achieved this pure tranquility of feeling. He was able to calmly observe this agitated, angry young man bashing the altar and say – “Okay, this is what’s happening. What needs to be done here?” – but with no strong feeling of likes or dislikes about it; without any feelings about how I’d like it to be. When the heart is pure, the feelings are calm. Evenmindedness is a vital quality on the spiritual path. It’s an essential quality in being able to deal with whatever happens during the day, and it also helps us to have deeper meditations.
“Practicing the Presence from Your Heart”
Practicing the presence of God – Brother always brought everything back to this. He emphasized the importance of developing a personal relationship with God by practicing His presence. Then your state of consciousness is not always in a state of flux. ….
Brother used to say, “Next to regular meditation, practicing the presence from your heart is the next important thing.” And Brother gave us some tips on how to practice the presence:
1. Keep your mantra/chant to a very few words.
2. Use the same chant for a long time. Brother would use the same chant for years – one time he used the same chant for seven years straight.
3. Have an intensity about it. “You really have to kneel into it from time to time,” Brother would say.
4. Chant from the heart. There has to be an element of love in the chant, not just mechanical repetition.
“Absolute Selfless Service”
“From the earliest days of my time with him,” Brother Ishtananda said, “I saw absolute selfless service. Brother was tireless. He had no concept of time for himself. There was practically never a time when Brother could even finish his lunch without some kind of interruption. Often times a phone call would come and he would always stop what he was doing to take the call. After a few months of seeing this happen, I answered the phone one day, and it was someone wanting to talk with him. Brother was eating his lunch, so I asked the person to call back later. When Brother found out what I’d done he gently chided me, “I always take my calls.” It was always about serving others; Brother never thought of himself. ….
Brother always gave personalized attention to anyone in need … When we have an attitude of selfless service, it helps us get away from the ego, and when the attention is off ourselves we will feel that divine joy… Brother’s desire to do service for others… flowed from his genuine love for the devotees. He could see the Divine in all, and he came from a level of consciousness that wanted to free the Divine in that individual. He gave Christ-love to everyone…
Brother was very enthusiastic about meditation and teaching meditation. He used to give a Satsanga for a beginner’s meditation class, and he divided meditation into five parts:
1. An opening prayer
2. A chant or affirmation
3. Practice of the techniques of meditation
4. Spending time in the stillness. Brother emphasized to spend as much time as you can in the stillness.
5. Practice devotion. Talk to God when you can’t hold the stillness any longer
He would teach that after the techniques we should sit a long time in the stillness. Relax the body, relax the mind, and relax the will. Concentrate the attention at the point between the eyebrows, using your will to keep just enough awareness there without straining. Then in that stillness, when you are completely relaxed, suddenly you will slip into the superconscious state.
“Devotion – this is the quickest and easiest way”
The name “Bhaktananda” means “bliss through devotion” – not emotion, but devotion. “The greatest thing you can ask for is Love,” Brother said. “Love is a quality, a feeling of the heart; devotion is the offering of that feeling of the heart to God. Every time you offer devotion to God you receive some measure of God contact – this is a law.” And Master said, “Only love makes you one with God.” Devotion – this is the quickest and easiest way. ….
Master wants all of us to always stay in tune with him. We can inwardly commune with Master, but it’s not easy. The spiritual path is not for the lazy man. It takes self-discipline. Meditate and practice the presence of God by chanting “Om Guru, Om Guru,” or “I love you Master, I love you Master,” or similar chants, offering your love to Master – Master and God being one. ….
Through the years, as he continued to practice the presence, Brother said he was overjoyed to learn he was able to inwardly commune with Master. When you are attuned, you will always know what to do, because this attunement is how you get his guidance. Brother Bhaktananda was a perfect example of Master’s teachings – he was “the real deal”. ….
SRF has just released a new DVD of a talk that Brother gave at the 1993 Convocation. One of the nuns, Mukti Mata, said of him, “Some of the things Brother Bhaktananda said were so simple they were almost child-like, but they were all true.” He lived Master’s truths. His operating system was that divine consciousness; he was anchored in that consciousness.
from DEVOTEE NOTES
See also~ The Personal Approach to God, DVD/rental
BACK TO SRF MONASTIC TALKS