Memories of Hari Prasad Shastri by Johanna Bowes

The personality of Hari Prasad Shastri

Recalling the personality of Shri Guru [Hari Prasad Shastri], the difficulty is what to leave out. He had so many facets that one had different impressions at different times. In his vibrant and colourful personality, different aspects struck different people. As can be seen from his photographs, his facial expression was very changeable and, in his lifetime, fascinating to watch. Each one of us may have seen him in another way, and I can only put down how I experienced him.

In the spring of 1945 I saw an ‘ad’ in ‘The New Statesman’ which said, “Adhyatma Yoga, the End of Suffering”. This appealed to me, and I went to the talk at The Caxton Hall.  I shall always remember it. On the platform was the small figure of an Indian in a dark blue robe; the Dean of St. Paul’s was in the chair and a lady (Marjorie V. Waterhouse) opened the meeting with a reading. Never had anyone made such an impression on me as that Indian. When he spoke, I felt that I knew how he would end the sentence.

The following week I went to Shanti Sadan, the very small place which gave the impression of being a private abode, and I felt a bit uncomfortable, imagining that I was being stared at. After I had come for a time, someone approached me, saying that Dr. Shastri would like to meet people who showed an interest. I hesitated, but she took me by the hand and led me into the backroom. There was a short, crisp dialogue and I was told to come the next afternoon, which I did with considerable misgivings: they were justified. Talking to him, I held nothing back since I was convinced he knew everything about me anyway.

I was not surprised when, on that first day, he demanded that not only long established habits, but also people should be ‘immediately’ abandoned. When I wondered how to carry on in the face of having nothing left, it was soon seen that he filled every space and all one’s time. He gave me two days to change my life; break a relationship – in fact, make a total U-turn. As it happened, events turned out that way and, surprisingly, it was not such a great sacrifice after all.

But usually the Blessed One was very kind and gentle to newcomers. He could even make quite a fuss – but not for long. Their lives too had to change. Some found that they were encouraged to change their job or qualify themselves for a better position. He had the sansaric as well as the spiritual good of his pupils at heart. He also took an interest in one’s family, but encouraged everyone to spend as much time as possible with the Sangha. Those who had, up to then, led a busy social life were given little hints to extricate themselves from it. Most who became devotees submitted themselves with trust and the feeling that he personally cared. One felt protected, and that protection remained, it remains even now.

When still in good health, Shri Guru made some of the regulars (those who came daily or almost daily) stay on for another hour in an informal way. Tea was made, and someone would read from a book of his selection, and he would interject the readings with apt remarks. On these occasions, he was most relaxed and put us at ease. Looking back in later years, it occurs to me that he must have thought it necessary to ease the tension from which a few of us probably suffered who took the Yoga not only seriously, but dived in with some force, perhaps at the risk of loss of evenness of mind and emotion. He would tell us funny incidents from his life and make us laugh a lot. It is a pity that there is no recording of Shri Guru’s merry laughter, which was so infectious that one had to join in whether one knew what had been said or not.

There was quite a bit of teasing on his part, and he made up little stories about each of us, and it was up to everyone to find out whether there was some truth in the fancy. But here, too, he remained the teacher. In a most economical manner, he gave lessons to individual people at one and the same time. When in his company with perhaps half a dozen others, he would make a remark which was only of significance to the one for whom it was meant.

Nowadays, when there are so many ‘gurus’ about, one hears of their kindness, holiness etc. I read about one who was careful not to arouse jealousy about his person among his disciples. Not so our Guruji. The ego was for pruning. For that purpose, he stirred the antahkarana to see what was there. To eliminate undesirable tendencies, he treated the ailment along the lines of homeopathy, which is based on the principle that ‘like cures like’. He created situations where the ‘patient’ was confronted with his or her impediment.

He was most skilful in showing disappointment, and this was hard to take; we all took turns in being reprimanded, but these incidents were more than offset by the warmth and patience on his part, and at the same time he engendered love and affection which was unlike any other which this one may have experienced in one’s life. Age, sex, status, accents and nationalities were blended together happily and flavoured with the Eastern fragrance which pervaded the old home at Lansdowne Crescent, where we were clustering round the miracle which had happened to us.

Already in Shri Guru’s lifetime, Marjorie was a great help and support to us. I remember her attitude when Shri Guru seemed to favour or disfavour one particular jiva. She would look at the favoured one with some misgivings as if to say, “You had better watch out!”, but rally to support the one under attack. To be asked for a meal in her little flat in Holland Park was a treat and even an oasis. One could really unburden to her, which was not possible with Shri Guru. She not only gave advice, but had the ability to uplift and restore confidence in a faltering jiva, without, however, allowing anyone to ‘lean’ on her. She could be as firm, and some thought even more firm, than Shri Guru.

In Sangha life she was a great manipulator and collaborator of Shri Guru. Members had to mix with one another, but not in the way they would have liked. There were no opportunities to form cliques, develop preferences or having ‘mates’. On the contrary, one had, for instance to prepare a programme with another jiva who had quite different ideas about it. When taking a diksha, one was supposed to be able to choose those who would attend. This was often theory, and on one occasion I found that both my assistants were the last two I would have chosen myself.

Of course I thought that this was all wrong, since one was supposed to be in a ‘high’ state of consciousness. That such a state should come about irrespective of ‘who’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ had not yet sunk in. Applications for a diksha also had to be sent to Marjorie.
Those who were a bit slow in applying for a diksha were asked: “Should I not have a letter from you?” And those who seemed to be in too much of a hurry were slowed down by just a look. Marjorie was the only one who dared, and often succeeded, in making Shri Guru change his mind in matters concerning the Sangha. She was not only what is commonly called ‘psychic’, but she was a ‘Seer’. Once, when out in Hampton Court and Marjorie was with us, Elizabeth [Marjorie Elizabeth Robley] told me that Marjorie was able to see the historical events which had taken place there in the past.

Interesting was the relationship between Shri Guru and Elizabeth, his constant companion. She used to drive him in her car everywhere and, if she was free, Lisl [Halliday] would be with them. The Blessed One left the house every day, whatever the weather. Elizabeth seemed to be on the same wavelength with her Guru when it came to personal preferences in regard to food, places to visit and similar things. She seemed to divine what he would like to do and came out with suggestions, which he usually accepted. To my mind, she was the most unassuming and the most saintly member of the Sangha.

There was one particular aspect about Shri Guru. He was what one had never seen before – a completely and totally fearless man. Prior to meeting him, my idea of fear or fearlessness was perhaps that it would only show when a person was in danger or in any difficult situation. It had not occurred to me that real fearlessness is a positive state in which to be, at all times, as was the case with him. He never was, what is commonly called, ‘being careful’. He never had the reservation and caution of the fearful sansarin, who allows others to know only that aspect of himself which he wants to be known at one time, reserving other aspects for other people and other occasions, ever mindful to say the right thing at the right time.

None of these things encumbered the personality of the Blessed One. He had no use for the commonly accepted rules of conduct, but had a way of making them look like unsavoury things. In Sangha life, the need for discretion or its application was likewise considered to be a defence which had to be discarded. Added to this was a characteristic which must have shocked many a newcomer, there were no secrets in the family of the Sangha. Once the careful jiva had been taught to stop being careful and had made the painful adjustment to what almost seemed the equivalent of public confession, a new surprise was in store.

Shri Guru would suddenly take one aside and whisper some information in one’s ear in a highly confidential manner, and the puzzled jiva thought that, after all, there were some things not meant for everyone to know. But shortly after, perhaps only minutes, he could be seen, and heard, to whisper in an equally confidential manner into someone else’s ear. What was the lesson in this? Either everything was Maya and did not matter, or everything and everybody was Brahman. If it could be said that in one way none was considered select, it could be said that everybody was special. While much of the time he seemed out to confuse a jiva, yet he succeeded in giving each the assurance that they were of value and had a contribution to make.

His methods to carry out the practical side of his teachings were fascinating to watch and exciting to experience, especially when it came to the distribution of praise and blame. Being generosity itself, he was lavish with both; there were no half measures for him. For what seemed a small fault, a jiva would receive prolonged expression of displeasure, seemingly out of proportion. On the other hand, out of the blue another was suddenly praised for what was to all appearances just ordinary behaviour.

The recipient of praise or blame was often embarrassed by the limelight given and by the unexpectedness of it all. Sometimes it was felt that neither praise nor blame was warranted at that time, or that perhaps it was another who should have received his attention in that direction. But who could expect him to do the obvious? His tactics were perhaps a speedy process of getting a jiva out of the pairs of opposite by exaggerating them to a degree where both became almost comical. Not that one could profess to have understood it all; besides being a spiritual teacher on the highest level, he was also a master psychologist, with a skill one could not look for in a sansaric psychologist.

Once he surprised me by saying, “My child, you have something in common with me!” When I looked doubtful, he said, “Absence of diplomacy in speech”! I was puzzled, was this praise or blame? Or was it a statement of fact? I had not been given to much talking, now I talked even less!

After I had been with Shri Guru for about two years, he suddenly and without warning, as was his wont, performed a major psychological operation on me, with nothing else but a remark made in a casual voice. The purpose of the operation was the removal of a suppressed guilt complex.

I had arrived at Shanti Sadan in the last year of the war, a difficult year for me in many ways. After the first jubilation that everything was over at last, the news came of the horrors of the concentration camps. At that time, I lived in a block of flats where there were a number of Jewish refugees and by and by many of them received the news of the fate of their relatives. I still remember the screams of my next-door neighbour, a Russian lady.

It had been bad enough living in London right through the Blitz, being a ‘so-and-so’ German, whose people had overrun half of Europe – and now this. This news came in midsummer when Shanti Sadan was closed to non-members, which was just as well, because I could not have faced anybody. I developed a mysterious illness, and it was only because Shri Guru had this magnetic influence on me, that I plucked up enough courage to turn up again in the Autumn.

My first interview with Shri Guru at the end of the war had been a somewhat stormy one. He told me or rather commanded me to change my lifestyle, of which I had told him, “at once!”, and he gave me two days to come back and give him my decision. As it happened, the relationship dissolved itself during the summer vacation, and at the beginning of the next term I asked for another interview, which was granted and I told him of my changed circumstances. He was then the sweetest and kindest of men, putting me at ease and I relaxed. This, however, was apparently only so on the surface. I thought I had dismissed everything horrible from my mind, but he must have known otherwise. On the day mentioned, two years later, we sat with him after devotion, just two or three of us, when he suddenly made a gesture towards me and said casually: “Let’s call her the Fuehrer”.

If he had crept up from behind and put a dagger in my back, I could not have felt worse. Here was the man who had become refuge and friend, teacher and most trusted confidant, and he betrayed me. Confused, resentful and deeply hurt, I walked almost all the way home. After some hours, when I had recovered enough even to think, it dawned slowly that he had been aiming, and hitting, at a stifled guilt-fixation which I had been unwilling to admit, let alone face. Not that I was immediately cured then and there, but I was certainly made aware that I had to deal with this.

As on other occasions, here also, two or three others were present, but the innocent onlookers had no idea what was going on and could not be blamed for arriving at a more obvious conclusion. The healing process took quite a while, not only from the blow – but the depth of the complex was only recognised by me some years later when I, for the first time, discussed the horrors with a German without shrinking, and experienced a physical reaction.

About being in Shri Guru’s presence, there were days when everything was bliss. There was a radiance about him which was a combination of peace and power. He was at his best when out in the open or by the seaside in hot weather. I remember one particular day when we went to Virginia Water, a weekday with hardly any people about. After the picnic, Shri Guru translated from the Sanskrit and chanted the verses, first in Sanskrit, then in English. At that time, I was convinced that there were devas sitting in the tree which shadowed him, listening with rapt attention.

On a lovely day in Kew Gardens, when all the blossoms were out, with the sun in the blue sky, he said to me, “If you could see it the way I see it!” At times, he would hint at glories yet to come. Sometimes, when he sat in his chair and lectured, it was as if a stream of invisible light, of warmth and certitude came away from him. Pronouncing on the ‘untaintability’ of Atman, tapping his finger on the table as he said it, he was authority itself; the possibility of doubt never arose.

Shri Guru could be the kindest, gentlest being one had ever encountered, and the generosity of his spirit would descend on a jiva like a magic cloak. But when necessary, he took on the aspect of Shiva, blowing very cool, and that too was accepted; both aspects came from the same source of love. As severe as he could be when polishing the antahkarana, in an even greater measure was his bounty. On occasions, there was an atmosphere of total relaxation in a way one had never experienced in any other situation or circumstance. It was total satisfaction, when the term ‘desireless’ took on significance.

In public, the appearance of Shri Guru often aroused attention. Here was an Indian gentleman accompanied by a few females carrying bags, blankets and other items, making a fuss of him, which he, however, seemed unaware.  Raised eyebrows and smiles by onlookers in railway compartments, on the beach, in restaurants, had to be ignored, but one could not help wondering what went on in their minds, judging by their faces. A mixture of puzzlement and amusement.

When Shri Guru entered a shop, we all had to come in with him, which meant that there were sometimes four people going into the bakers for one loaf. But it was not just that he drew attention. It seemed that he could influence people without giving signs of it. Some of the encounters were so subtle that it is impossible to write them down.

When lecturing, Shri Guru would answer unspoken questions and clarify misunderstandings. Many had the experience when on their way to the lecture, perhaps sitting in a bus or train and pondering about a problem, that the subject was dealt with in the lecture. In his unique and very economical way he managed to give something to people within a short time.

But the opposite could happen. On rare occasions, he almost attacked the audience or at least someone in the audience, since he could sense attitudes of antagonism as soon as he entered the room. In one lecture, he said that the name of the Lord should be repeated a thousand times a day, when a lady glided up to the speaker’s table and said: “You must have made a mistake, professor, when you said, ‘a thousand times a day’· Looking into the room, he said, “Yes, it was a mistake, I meant ten thousand times!”

The realisation of Shri Guru’s powers of knowing not only what one was doing, but also thinking, when not in his presence, was at first a bit unnerving. Later, one got used to it and profited from that knowledge. One afternoon I was hurrying to the old house, having been told to come for tea. Hurrying along the street, I was a bit late. I saw Harold in his car apparently coming from Shri Guru’s abode.  He also saw me and waved. In a blurred way I thought, “Not much good to me, you are going the wrong direction for me!”

During the tea, the Blessed One suddenly said, “I want to advise you of one thing, my dear, never expect favours from anybody!” I was puzzled because, of my many shortcomings, I thought this was the least of them. I remained silent and not a little nonplussed. He, after a while, repeated the advice, but it was not until much later on the way home, in the same street, when I remembered Harold in his car that it dawned on me, I had been under his observation when I was on my way to him, and that this fleeting thought had been read.

Then there was the evening when at the end of his lecture he looked straight at me, as I sat in the front-row, and said with emphasis, “And one more thing I want to tell you, my friends. Don’t concern yourselves with what Mr. Cripps (later Sir Stafford Cripps, then Chancellor of the Exchequer) says about the devaluation of the pound and other useless chatter.” I stared at him. It seemed incredible that he should bother to go into accurate details, because this is what had actually happened the night before, when I had a lengthy telephone conversation with a friend. I was bewildered. Surely, he could not expect people not to talk about the events of the day which affected everyone’s life and discuss nothing but Yoga.  After all, the worldly life still had to be lived.

Pondering about this, I came to the conclusion; as in everything else, here too he had a definite purpose in telling me that I was all the time under his observation. He wanted me to be aware of the fact that he knew, not because he wanted to frighten or impress me with his powers, which he denied having in any case, but he wanted me to put this awareness to good use and encourage me to practise constant recollection, which I did.

Not only speech had to be controlled, but also emotions; and not only the ego-reactions which he aroused, but also those which arose from joy with the happiness one could experience when in his presence, or with the joy and upliftment the holy Yoga often occasioned.

I had been looking forward to a diksha, always a highlight. The Sunday before that there was a Sat Sang, another highlight, and when the Blessed One asked me at the end of the Sat Sang to come out with him the next day, I was flushed with joy, and it showed. Immediately I realised my mistake. When he spoke again, he turned his head aside and spoke into the room – one of his ways to show displeasure.

Before going home in the evening, I asked Elizabeth where and when we should meet. It was usually Victoria Station (for Brighton). She said she was not sure but would ring me in the morning. The morning came, but no phone-call. I tried ringing her, but apparently she had already gone to Shri Guru’s house. To phone her there seemed obtrusive, so I decided to wait, and wait I did.

After a couple hours, there was no doubt. I had been forgotten – and I knew why.  I needed a dampener. In the afternoon, a call came from Brighton. It was dear Elizabeth, saying she had forgotten our arrangement, and perhaps I could still come? But, of course, it was too late, I would have got there just in time for the journey back. That evening, when I arrived at Shanti Sadan, Shri Guru greeted me with the words, “And whom do you blame?” But by then I had learned enough not to say something silly like, “Elizabeth’s forgetfulness”. Instead, I mumbled something about my bad karma and suggested it was perhaps the jealous devas who were to blame, and that was that.

Once Shri Guru graciously accepted an invitation to come to my place for tea. Elizabeth, his constant companion, would drive him anywhere and, if not working, Lisl would also be there. This suited me fine, since I could seat just four people comfortably and I had it all worked out. The Blessed One, forever reading one’s mind and being very skilled in putting one out in one’s arrangement decided that one other devi should also come, because “there is room for four in the car”.

So, flexibility, much the order of the day, had to be resorted to and the tea-party was a success. On the strength of it I took courage. and some time after I asked him to dinner, and he agreed. I was all in a dither doing the shopping, trying to get the best of everything, Shri Guru appreciated a good meal, and I also bought a few new items for the table. I start cooking in good time, the soup was done and I concentrated on the vegetables when the phone rang.

It was Elizabeth saying that Shri Guru had a temperature and was advised to stay indoors, could I come and cook the meal there? Being the Compassionate One, she said she would come by car so that everything could be transported safely. I then lived quite a distance, having an inconvenient journey, changing buses. I collected myself and said of course it could be done. Half an hour later the phone rang again, Elizabeth saying that Shri Guru could not spare her since he wanted to dictate something. There was nothing else for it but to organise things in such a way as to transport the lot by bus: soup, the main meal, the sweet. I don’t know how I managed it, but I did; and it even was a good meal and had not suffered at all in the transport.

On rare occasions, Shri Guru would invite two or three people for a meal, cooked by himself, invariably a hot curry. In my first year, I had the privilege to be his guest for luncheon one day, together with Harold. In those early days, l felt very much subdued in close contact with the Blessed One. However, he conversed mostly with Harold and the conversation was, more or less, on general topics.

On a quite different and most memorable occasion I was asked by the Blessed One to come for a ‘Curry OM ‘, cooked by himself. This was on the New Year’s Day, the first one at Chepstow Villas, which I thought was auspicious. Marjorie, Lisl and myself were the guests. Shri Guru was an excellent cook and the curry was pretty hot! He did not speak much, but the atmosphere was pregnant. When he asked me whether I had liked the meal, I said, “I think this was the meal of my lifetime”. He just smiled.

Although he liked his curries very hot, when it came to sweet things, the Blessed One liked them very sweet. I used to make him a special sweet. The recipe was ground almonds with lots of sugar boiled in milk, until it had a creamy consistency. He enjoyed that very much, and this kind of personal service was of course also enjoyed by the one who had the privilege to provide it. But when, at times, personal service was not accepted, the disappointment was also a major one!

In the summer, trips to Brighton were a weekly occurrence. We used to go by train and always took a picnic. But in the afternoon on the way back to the station we would stop at Fuller’s for tea, Fuller’s being one of the nicer places with good tea and pastries. On one occasion however, Shri Guru marched us, Elizabeth and myself, past Fuller’s and did not stop until close to the station. Elizabeth and I were disappointed and thirsty, as it was a hot day. But we were also surprised, because the Blessed One was quite fond, himself, of an afternoon cup of tea.

Close to the station was a small, shack-like cafe of the type where lorry-drivers would stop for tea and a snack. “Let’s have tea here”, he said. Elizabeth and I exchanged glances and were horrified. Inside it was, as I feared, more rough than ready – a few rough tables, the seats were upturned boxes, chipped cups, general untidiness. What was embarrassing was the sudden silence in the place as we entered. There were not many Indians to be seen in those days in Brighton, in the late forties, and the only woman in the place was the one serving at the counter. Everyone stared at us.

Guruji, however, with his customary ease and unconcern, made straight for the tea-lady, a woman not too tidy, wearing slippers, and addressed her with the greatest courtesy and a benign smile, “I wonder, dear lady, if you would be so kind and serve us with some tea.” Everyone listened with interest and the dear lady became quite flustered by this unaccustomed charm. She nervously hurried forth with the best cups she could find and tidied a table. When she brought the tea, she was being thanked with the greatest sincerity. For every movement she made she was thanked, and the good woman did not know what was happening to her.  All this was observed with great interest by all the men in the place, which did not help her. By the time we left she must have been near to breaking-point. I am sure she will not have forgotten this incident for a long time.

What was all this about? It was one of many occasions where a lesson was not given by word of mouth, but by demonstration, and was aimed at an attitude of mine. I had been rather snooty about places I would enter for any kind of refreshment, carried to a point where I would rather go without than enter a place where the surroundings, the people or service available was not of a reasonable standard. This was Shri Guru’s way of showing that sometimes it should be done. After an incident like that or one of a similar nature, there was never any discussion about it. It was not necessary. I was only sorry for Elizabeth, who was fond of her afternoon tea and who, being very bemused, had to suffer on my behalf.

Soon after I had become a member, I was entrusted with making a robe for Shri Guru and I was delighted. Everything one did for him personally was, of course, a great pleasure. Later on, it was my privilege to make all his robes, the blue ones he wore for public lectures, the orange silken ones for Sat Sang, and also his dressing gowns. He did not like to sit around in a suit, and as soon as he got home he would change. Now, since it was not the idea to do service only which gave pleasure, Shri Guru soon thought up different ways of service which had, on the face of it, really nothing to do with him or with Yoga.

Gradually, one realised that every opportunity was taken to ‘get at’ the ego, and if no opportunity presented itself, he had no problems in creating one. In the mid-forties, I employed myself making blouses which I sold to the shop. Later on, I also made them for private customers. I did not take up teaching until the mid-fifties, when there was a sudden demand for native teachers at the Polytechnics. Shri Guru took suddenly a great interest in blouses and began to buy bits of material in different places, wherever he happened to be, Portobello Road or at a shop in Brighton. These were handed to different members of the Sangha and, by hints and suggestion, it emerged that Johanna would make them into blouses. The recipients were not asked whether the material or the colour suited them or whether they needed or wanted them. That was unimportant.

It began with one or two, and not realising what was yet to come, I made no charges. When it became a regular thing, I accepted payment which, in any case, was always offered. The problem was, how much to charge, because ‘trading’ among members was not encouraged. One evening the Blessed One took me aside and asked, “How is it, that it costs £2.88 to make a blouse if I only paid five shillings for the material?” Well, there could have been replies to the question, but one did not tell one’s Guru that there was little logic in his argument. So, I remained silent, letting him read my thoughts, and the buying of material soon faded out.

Once he stopped me in front of a shop window for women’s clothing and exclaimed, “Look at these prices! Look what it would cost me if I had to buy clothes for Yachio {Dr. Shastri’s wife]!”  (A departed member, A, had been sewing for Yachio and from what one had heard, it had been quite a bit of tapas.) For me the implication was clear. I was invited to sew for Yachio; but this was where I just bristled and remained silent. Of course, he caught my vibrations, he was holding my arm, but he said no more, and we walked on.

Then came the time that someone decided that I should also make the gowns for new members who were taking their name diksha. In Shri Guru’s days more people were attracted by him, took a couple of dikshas and disappeared again.  In one year, I made at least half a dozen gowns. It was not until Marjorie became Warden that newcomers were sifted more strictly. For many of us, service was like a busman’s holiday; those who were typing in an office all day were also typing in their ‘free’ time.

He could also go to great lengths to demonstrate displeasure. Long before outside talks were a regular thing, he encouraged members to give papers to the respective groups, and he started to urge me to write a paper. I was not at all ready for it and felt pressurised. But when no paper was forthcoming, he staged a special meeting for ‘those only who were interested in our publications’, which meant, not me.

But I was not for long in the doghouse. He must have realised, how tensed-up and unhappy I felt about it. There just was not enough time for everything; each evening at Shanti Sadan; often a day or half-a-day out with him; two group meetings each week; a garland had to be made, or the tea; the temple had to be prepared or a programme had to be arranged. There were few able-bodied members in those days, and the workload was therefore heavy. In term time, the pace was hectic.

When he saw I had a little piano in the flat where I then lived, he asked me, “Do you play?” I thought this a strange question, was he teasing me? “There is no time now”.  He said, “Find the time.” I remained silent and just wondered where or when to ‘find’ it when he and/or the Yoga filled every space in one’s life.

To be in his presence for hours could be exhausting as well as exhilarating. Sometimes one felt drained. Drained of what? Drained of energy or of rajas? When he held one’s arm when walking, it was privilege as well as tapas, especially when there was a picnic and one was carrying various heavy bags on the other arm, of which the Blessed One was, however, divinely unaware!

Shri Guru was a past master in the art of turning an event or a remark which seemed harmless into something weighty. A thoughtless word, spoken in fun, could evoke a serious reprimand. But the opposite could happen; what appeared to be a fault or an omission could turn into a comical situation.

In the old abode in Lansdowne Crescent there was no refrigerator. In those days it was not as common to have a fridge as it is now. When I became a member in 1945, I lived in a flat where there was a fridge, and someone told me that Shri Guru liked drinking cool soda water. It had been one of Myra [Diamond’s] many duties to provide soda-water, which she prepared at home and she could be seen daily carrying siphons to and from Shanti Sadan.

To have ice in the soda-water would be most welcome. I grasped the chance and brought the tray with the ice-cubes when I came and took the empty one back in the evening. At that time, only two members of the Sangha owned a fridge; both of them were titled ladies. When I began this service, the Blessed One thanked me in an elaborate manner, saying, “You see, my dear, I feel l cannot ask ladies to provide me with ice, but l feel I can ask you!”

On another day he said, “I am so glad you are not a lady”, when one of the ladies stood right behind me, looking somewhat puzzled. Needless to say, this remark was at once taken up by the regulars and I became the ‘no-lady’ for a while. But, of course, it had to happen that one day I forgot. Not realising it, I came into the room and sat down. In those days, the devotions were held in what was Shri Guru’s sitting room; he would already be sitting there by the time the members arrived one by one and took their seats.

As I sat there, Myra appeared at the door, holding a glass out at me with a questioning glance, and then I realised I had forgotten the ice. I looked at Shri Guru who had, of course, observed the silent communication, and by the look on his face I could see that he was going to make the most of my fault.  All I could think to say across the room was: “I am afraid I am a lady tonight!” The face of Shri Guru was a study. His face puckered up into numerous tiny wrinkles and eventually overcame the stern expression, ending up in a broad smile.

What the onlookers thought about someone who was a lady on only one particular evening and how they interpreted the situation did not matter. Most of them were used to puzzling remarks and events anyway.

Before meeting Shri Guru, I had preconceived ideas of how a holy man would behave, what he would do and say, perhaps not touching money, but mumbling prayers most of the time. But on my first day out with him I was astonished to see that not only did he maintain his place in the bus queue, but even managed to get on a little in front! Unwittingly, I expected him to demonstrate in daily life all the virtues mentioned in the books.

Once I had the misfortune, while dusting his room, to break the head of a little China figure which stood on the mantel piece. With some trepidation, I went to confess, but had a vague hope that perhaps the virtue of non-attachment might work in my favour, since non-attachment had been the subject of recent lectures. But I should have known better. Non-attachment did not mean that you could break the belongings of someone else and get away with it. “This figure has travelled with me and Yachio round the world, and now people are breaking it”, was the stern rebuke.

Out by the river on a lovely summer afternoon he took my arm, and we walked a bit until he said, “Let’s stop and enjoy the view of the river.” We stood on elevated ground, and as I looked down I saw a man lying asleep on a seat, by all appearances a dosser. The next moment Shri Guru also saw him. While I was wondering what his attitude would be he said, “No, not here, let’s walk on.”  I did some thinking.  How and when should compassion be demonstrated? The answer is in the Gita: ‘giving’ can be of three types – sattvic, rajasic or tamasic. This man was a drop-out, he had chosen his lifestyle and was left to get on with it. There were no ‘homeless’ in those days.

Of the many astonishing things Shri Guru did, one event in particular is standing out in my memory. He, Elizabeth and myself were on the way to Kew Gardens. The road leading to the Victoria Gate is not a wide one and the pavement is rather narrow; so, I walked behind them. From the opposite direction came a man in a wheelchair, pushed by a woman. This man did not look at all pleased, seeing an Indian and looked almost aggressive. When Shri Guru saw the man, he stopped in the middle of the pavement and, his back to the oncoming party, spoke to Elizabeth with some animation. She, ever attuned to her Guru, also stopped, although it could not have escaped her that they were obstructing the wheelchair.  It was obviously a deliberate performance by the Blessed One.

I went close to the kerb, but the poor woman had to manipulate the chair around the two people obstructing her path. The man’s face was dark with anger, but to my surprise neither he nor the woman said a word. It must be remembered that in those days there were people who objected to see an Indian in the company of white women. Once when he was walking on the arm of a young girl (Bl. Lisl), one could hear audible tongue-clicking from the direction of some women with busy minds. As to the man in the wheelchair, he doubtless never forgot that Indian!

Shri Guru’s skill in causing embarrassment was unequalled. One was always sorry for newcomers, as yet unacquainted with his tactics. Once a new member was invited to stay for a cup of tea and Shri Guru said to Lisl, “Give the beautiful figure we bought at the market to this sister!” The sister in question was knowledgeable about antiques and when the figure was handed to her, she was charmed and said, “Thank you very much!” But Shri Guru continued speaking, only the verb ‘to give’ was now changed into ‘to show’. The sister however was alert enough and, recovering herself quickly, said, “Thank you for showing it to me”, and handed it back.

Assuming an attitude of great innocence, the Blessed One would ask intimate questions, not only in the presence of other members, but sometimes in public. On one occasion, he put a very personal question to me when sitting next to me in the bus, and a woman in front turned round, craning her neck to have a good look at me. Why did he do it? To see whether one minded? In time one began to see the funny side of it.

When he realised that I always remained silent and never resisted, Shri Guru called me for a while ‘the silent one’, but I don’t think anyone knew why. One day he said, “My child, one day have a quarrel with me”. Being the master psychologist that he was, he knew that suppression did nothing for the psyche, but I could not find it in me to take him up on this invitation. Another time he handed me some homeopathic medicine and said, “Take this, it will make you quarrelsome!” This time I asked, “On whom do I practise?”  He pointed to himself and said, “On this body!”

But once I got really fed up and decided firmly that I would turn back straight away and go home if he would dig at me as he had done for a few days running. These were my thoughts on the way to Shanti Sadan. But l should have known. As soon as I entered the room, he stretched out his hands and in the sweetest manner welcomed me, saying, “Come here, my child, sit by me!” Wherever one was, he knew what one was thinking and doing.

One day, when I returned with him from Portobello Road, he stopped outside a bookshop; he never passed one by.  In the window, he saw a book which interested him, and he made to go in, but the shop was closed. I asked him which book it was and he told me. After taking him home, I passed the shop again and this time it was open. I purchased the book in the manner Shri Guru would have done, i.e. found the price too high and bargained with the shopkeeper, with some success. When I came into the room that evening, he sat with his hand stretched out and said, “’How much did you pay for it?” “Not as much as he asked” was the answer.

Out in the open, the Blessed One would occasionally invent little games, sometimes very simple and seemingly silly. At one time, we had to take a ball along. Forming a small circle, we were perhaps only four, the ball had to be thrown, from one person to the next, that was all. This seemed a particularly pointless game to me, and I thought, “What a waste of time!” I threw the ball with rather more force than necessary, and immediately realised what it was all about.  The constant observer never did anything without a purpose. I looked at him – and he looked at me, throwing the ball with rajas predominating. It did not do to relax the constant awareness.

To be asked to join Shri Guru on one of his outings was, of course, a special treat. If lucky, one was asked the evening before, but often one was taken by surprise. Elizabeth, who would be at his place early in the morning, would ring me from there and ask, “Can you come with us?” I was of course delighted, but then difficulties arose. Shri Guru seemed to pick the days when I had made special arrangements of a sansaric nature, and often there were considerable disruptions. But one learned to drop everything, whenever he called.

One early morning a decorator had just arrived to put up wallpaper in my bedroom when the phone rang. I knew at once who it would be. There was nothing else to do but leave the man to get on with his job and hope for the best (or trust in God!). I did not know the man and had I sent him away he would have never returned. But everything turned out to be alright.

Then there was the day when a tenant of mine was leaving; he had quite a few suitcases to pack, and this was hardly the day to leave him alone in the flat. This man was, by some odd chance, a member of Shri Guru’s Hardoon family. But, nevertheless, Shri Guru, who had never met the man seemed to disapprove of him, expressing concern whether the man could be trusted or whether he was a ‘rogue’. So, when the phone rang, the question, whether the man was trustworthy or not, had to be put to the test. He did pass the test and I passed mine.

Shri Guru’s way of teaching was not always by giving instructions which could be forgotten or ignored, but often by creating confusion in the mind, compelling the recipient of his teaching to sort things out for themselves, which takes time but stays put. He used similar methods with people outside, who had no idea of who he was and can’t have been sure of what he was getting at.

He would often go down Portobello Road to buy vegetables or enter some of the shops. He seemed to know a good many of the shopkeepers by name. One morning we entered one of these shops and found the owner in a state of excitement. It appeared that his dog, or his wife’s dog, had been hit by a car. Shri Guru was most solicitous and enquired about the condition of the dog, which could not have been hurt too badly, as one could gather. “Where is the dog?” “She is upstairs in bed with the wife!”  Apparently, the wife too had suffered from the shock!

The man had a rather coarse, red face and had all kinds of things to say about careless drivers, not being too particular about the choice of his words and only interrupting himself with concern for the dog. Shri Guru listened sympathetically, then turned with an elaborate gesture to Elizabeth and said in an emphatic voice, “Do you realise my dear, that Mr. X. is a most kind and good-hearted man?”

The expression on the face of Mr. X was a study. Surprise mixed with wonderment, his torrent of speech slowed down and he evidently had to sort himself out. Had anyone ever called him that? Had he ever considered himself to be a most kind and good-hearted man? If he hadn’t, he would certainly from now on consider the possibility of such a thing.

One day Shri Guru held out something to me which was, at one time, a scarf. It was the most threadbare article I had ever seen in my life. I had certainly never seen him wearing it. He said, “My child, I am so fond of this scarf, do you think you could do something with it?”  My heart sank, was I now supposed to be a magician! To refuse any request by the Blessed One was unthinkable. An innocent newcomer might have thought, “Why not buy him a new one?” But this was not the way things were done in Shri Guru’ s school. So, I took the thing home and pondered what to do.

The middle part round the neck was so thin that mending was out of the question, so I cut the worst part out, thereby shortening it a little. The ends still had a faint blue embroidery on them, I went looking round the shops to find a matching shade of embroidery yarn and set about to darn the whole scarf with a very small embroidery stitch, thereby reinforcing it and covering any seams. To avoid leaving knots, I left a short fringe of blue on both sides, and in the end the thing looked not too bad.  It was the best I could do with it.

This took, of course, time, and I did it when I went away for a fortnight’s holiday. On my return, I handed the article to Shri Guru with some trepidation. He looked at it with mild surprise and exclaimed an even milder, “Oh!” Needless to say, I never saw the scarf again and I am now wondering if it ever existed, or had he been having fun with Maya at my expense? It was one of many devices he used to ensure constant recollection. If it was not possible to think of Yoga all the time, I certainly had the Guru in mind all the time.

We could not time or arrange things to our own convenience when with Shri Guru. One morning we were to meet at the No.27 bus stop for Kew Gardens. Elizabeth, Lisl and myself. When the Blessed One said, “At ten”, that meant, better be there at ten minutes to ten. When I arrived, there was only Lisl with him and Shri Guru looked displeased. I asked Lisl where Elizabeth was. She whispered, “She has gone to the bank round the corner and should be here any minute.” But fate was against her.  At five minutes to ten the No. 27 bus arrived and Shri Guru got on, followed by Lisl.

It seemed terrible to me to leave Elizabeth in ignorance about what had happened and so quickly I whispered to Lisl, “I shall wait for Elizabeth here.  Where will you be?” “Victoria Gate”, she whispered back. But fate was also against me, apparently. I too had done the wrong thing, because suddenly Lisl appeared from around the corner, having got off the bus. She said, “Elizabeth was about to come to the bus-stop when she saw it leaving. Guessing rightly that her Guru would be on it, she jumped in to join him.”

Now, this would have left me standing by the bus-stop, waiting for someone who was not going to come! But Lisl had grasped the situation quickly and whispered to Elizabeth, “Go to Victoria Gate, I am fetching Johanna.”  But again fate (?) intervened. When the two of us arrived at Victoria Gate, there was no Shri Guru and no Elizabeth. Had she heard? There seemed no point in searching at all the gates, and Lisl had an inspiration. “I know where they will be: at Bird’s Walk.”  And that was where we found them. There was no discussion about the incident.

One morning Elizabeth drove Shri Guru to Kew Gardens, and the arrangement was that I would meet them there at one o’clock because I had to attend a diksha in the morning. Elizabeth wanted to go and see her aunt that afternoon and I was to relieve her, so to say, and be with him. (He never went anywhere on his own, to my knowledge.) The meeting point was to be the Japanese Gate! This was on a weekday when there were hardly any people in the park. I arrived a few minutes after one o’clock and went straight to the Gate, but there was not a soul in sight. What to do? Dashing around in the gardens did not seem a sensible thing to do, I had been told to be at the Gate and at the Gate I was. Having walked around it twice – the Gate is standing on a hill and gives a good view of a stretch of the garden – I decided to do it just once more and then just sit down and see what would happen.

Suddenly, I heard his voice from behind me calling, “Come here, my child.” The bewildered child looked round and there he was, not at all looking as if he had just arrived. He was lying comfortably on the grass, his coat off, hat and stick lying beside him. He must have been there for some time. What had happened? There was no chance of having overlooked him; had he made himself invisible? He always ridiculed ideas of the power of Yogis. To my way of thinking he did not have to make himself invisible, what he did was casting a veil over my mind, preventing me from seeing him. Why did he do it? To see one’s reaction?  To see whether one panicked or whatever? Should I have been agitated? One never questioned him on his actions.  The rest of the afternoon was most enjoyable.

One day Elizabeth drove us to some woodland, where we left the car and looked for a suitable place to put down the blankets and have our picnic.  But we found the ground rather rain-sodden and not very nice, and it was also pretty dark. As we stepped around, Elizabeth suddenly exclaimed, “Here is a wasps’ nest!”  It was rather more than just a nest. The ground was literally crawling with them, so thick they were on top of one another. Looking at Shri Guru, I saw him, not looking at the wasps, but at me. Then he just said, “Oh, let’s go”, and we went without further comments.  Later on, I wondered. Had the wasps been real? Why did we only see them when we already stood on top of them? Had the Blessed One again played his little game with Maya?

There was one particular occasion when I saw Shri Guru in a very melancholy, sombre mood. It was on a day in Brighton. The weather was wet and miserable, but we, nevertheless, sat by the sea. Elizabeth went to get something from the shop, and I stayed behind with Shri Guru, sitting in deckchairs. He was unusually quiet.

After a while he said, “Let’s go to the end of the pier!” He took my arm and we walked slowly along, stopping at the end where he looked into the murky water for a while, then said, “Let’s go back.” After some time, he spoke, “When I looked into the water, I had a strong urge to jump in and end it all.”

I was dumbfounded; then I remembered that he once said that the temptation to commit suicide can attack even a Yogi, but I had not thought that it could apply to a jnani. On reflection it is said that the antahkarana reflects the moods and events of one’s surroundings. What had he seen in the water? Perhaps a picture of things to come? He was, of course, in a position to evaluate the real dangers and the consequences of the foolish acts of the human race.

Only once before had I seen the Blessed One in a very serious mood.  That was when he gave a lecture the week the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. When he entered the room there was a very grave expression on his face.  He at once mentioned the bomb and condemned the action in the strongest terms. He said that the countries responsible, in which he included Britain, had no idea about the karmic consequences they had invited upon themselves. One strongly felt that he saw himself as a representative of the Law of Dharma who had to make an official protest on behalf of that Law. On this occasion he wore a turban, which was unusual.

The only other time I have seen Shri Guru wearing a turban was on a very different occasion, a very joyful one. This was on the day of the opening of Shanti Sadan, our own home. From his papers we know how important he thought that to be. The temple was laid out in the traditional way; there were many candles and lots of incense.

At the close of the meeting Shri Guru led us into the library and the meditation room, reciting Sanskrit verses and sprinkling water. Incense was burning everywhere. There was a tremendous atmosphere. This occasion was obviously one, the deeper meaning of which was only known to him. We rejoiced with each other, being pleased with what seemed then an enormous amount of space to ourselves.

The accommodation in the house in Lansdowne Crescent had been extremely limited, two rooms on the ground floor and two on the second floor, the latter being the bedrooms for Shri Guru and Yachio. The large front room on the ground floor was Shri Guru’s sitting-room and this was where the evening devotions were held. The back room served as Shri Guru’s dining room/study. But the two rooms were connected by a wide double door which could be folded back.

This was useful for the Sat Sang meetings. The temple cloth stretched all along, from one end to the other. The number of members at that time were about two dozen, and we sat in reasonable comfort.  But there was a problem. The two upper floors of the house were occupied by people who did not take kindly to the hall being filled with people’s coats and perhaps umbrellas, but also with a cluttering of shoes on the floor! And this by people who did not live there.

In the silence of our meeting we could occasionally hear annoyed voices, threatening to take drastic measures. Then one day the foreseeable happened, coming out of the meeting, we found a large heap of garments on the dusty floor. The hooks which were fastened on the walls could no longer take the weight and had broken off. I wore, at that time, a black suit and was looking for my jacket but could not find it. At the end, there was only one grey garment left on the floor, and it turned out to be my black jacket! But there was a surprise for me, I did not mind and remained peaceful!

Shri Guru never proclaimed himself to be a Guru, he only talked about his Guru, Shri Dada. In the old abode in Lansdowne Crescent there was a large picture of Shri Dada over the mantelpiece, and it was from this picture that the light for the Arti Ceremony was taken. We were few in those days, and the light was taken by each member separately. Only after we had moved to the big house did he allow the light to be taken from himself.

That a Guru Puja should be celebrated was divined by one of the early members. When Shri Guru was approached with this suggestion he approved. But after a Guru Puja had been held once or twice, the next year he announced in the morning of the day that he would not come down to take part in the celebration in the evening, because “people do not really know what a Guru Puja is about”.

It was a sad occasion.  A very subdued congregation sat downstairs, while the Guru sat upstairs in his room. One of the older members shed a few tears. Soon after, the preparation  practice for the Guru Puja was introduced, and, later on, also the preparation for the Sat Sang.

It cannot have been easy to become acquainted with the way an Indian Guru should be considered.  At an early Sat Sang, when it came to the point in the programme for the Guru to give words, someone remaining seated would just announce, “Words given by Blessed Warden”. This too was later changed that members should be prepared to give talks was not simply announced by the Blessed One. He arranged things in a unique way. He would suddenly develop a temperature, which he seemed able to do at will, and since the lecture had to be given, someone had to do it. On a day when he was due to give the last talk at a Convention in Caxton Hall, which was usually well attended because his name was known, he developed a temperature in the morning. When asked who should give the talk, he was reluctant but suggested two possibilities. It fell on Trevor [P. Leggett] to do it and, with the short notice, he made a very good job of it.

In this way, Shri Guru prepared the Sangha for the time when he would be no longer with us, and Sangha life had to be carried on without upheaval.  Until the mid-forties he had been giving all the dikshas himself. Then, gradually, he appointed some of the early members to give the first dikshas.  By and by, he retreated more and more. l only caught up with him in the middle of the second degree.

That Sangha life has gone on and still is, shows his wisdom, knowledge and, let it be said, his faith in his disciples.  Speaking for myself, I can only say that my ten years with him were the equivalent of ten incarnations of teachings received, for which I am indebted to him in the same measure.

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