When I first began meditating, I did it on my own. I had previously heard that, when one repeats a mantra, thoughts bubble up and eventually the bubbles decrease and the mind quiets. That sounded good. I also “meditated” with some friends who were into new age spirituality. So, I had a vague idea of what meditation was. Based on what I’d heard about the thought bubbles, it seemed that having a mantra was important and I found one in a book, The Only Dance There Is, by the American psychologist turned spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. My first meditation consisted of mentally repeating that mantra while sitting and relaxing. But the process was not very systematic and the mantra was not chosen for me. My home-grown meditation practice calmed and cleared my mind, but it didn’t go deep.
Some years later, I decided I wanted a personal mantra and got an appointment with a respected yogi I’d heard about who lived in a yoga center near my home. I asked him for a mantra. He asked my date of birth, looked in a little notebook, wrote a mantra down on a slip of paper and gave it to me. There was no formal initiation. That mantra seemed to affect my mind more than the previous one I’d looked up in a book, but for some reason I didn’t feel settled with it.
Some months later, I met Dr. Usharbudh Arya, who later took vows and became Swami Veda Bharati. I was extremely drawn to him and felt he was a true teacher. A year later, I asked to take initiation from him in the Himalayan Tradition and he agreed.
At the time I was working in a law office in Oakland, California. I took the morning off and drove an hour across the Bay to the venue designated for the initiation. When I arrived, the place was very quiet. His assistant had me sit and turn my attention inward. After some time, I was escorted into the room where Dr. Arya was sitting on the floor, erect with eyes closed, in meditation. I was guided to sit very close to him and turn 90 degrees so that he was facing my right ear. The assistant left the room. Then, with a deep resonant voice, through words and presence, Dr. Arya began guiding me into a meditative state of mind. I was anxious and my mind chattered incessantly. Still, as he spoke, I slipped into a more relaxed state. I nearly jumped when, to my surprise, he began whispering into my right ear. Immediately I realized he was whispering my mantra, over and over. He asked me to mentally repeat it. This went on for maybe five minutes. Then, while remaining seated with eyes closed, Dr. Arya gently told me we were finished. I left the room, leaving dakshina for him. Afterward I drove back home.
Although I felt restless and agitated at the initiation, I was surprised at the effect. That afternoon, at work, the mantra kept repeating in my mind even while I worked. When I sat to meditate, I’d listen to the cassette tape given to me after the initiation, which contained a systematic guided beginner meditation process. Soon, from the cassette, I learned that practice. The mantra given me seemed to affect my mind much more than the other mantras I’d used. Somehow it seemed beautiful to me and listening to it soothed my mind. Meditation practice became a whole new, deeper, experience.
Initially, when doing my meditation practice, I had to mentally repeat the mantra. But as time passed, this became less and less necessary. Soon the mantra seemed to repeat itself. Something else happened too that is more difficult to put into words. I felt as if my mind became connected to something larger than myself, to some greater knowledge and reservoir of wisdom. This sense I had coincided with something I later heard from Swami Rama: that the “teaching happens in the silence.”
The initiation also created a connection with my teacher that was beyond my understanding. One time, many years after my initiation, I had a terrible argument with my father. My dad ran out of the house very upset leaving me feeling miserable. With great sadness, I cried in my mind for help from Dr. Arya. To my immense surprise, a short while later the phone rang and it was Dr. Arya. He said he just called to say hello and asked me how I was. He’d never called me before that.
It’s now been 32 years since my initiation and, with hindsight, I see that the initiation was the starting point of a long series of events and experiences that came to me and spurred me to mature as a person. Before that, as an adult, I’d avoided life’s difficulties, and, so, in effect, avoided life. The initiation changed all of that. I’m forever grateful for having been given these opportunities to learn and grow as a person.