Recently Pradhan Balter, a student of Sri Chinmoy for over 30 years, published a book – At The Feet of My Master about his life and experiences with his Spiritual Teacher. His books offers an insightful and illumining account of his 30 years as a disciple of Sri Chinmoy.
You can visit his site: At The Feet of My Master, where it is possible to order.
We asked him a few questions about the process of writing.
Why did I write the book?
If you would allow me, I would prefer to re-word the question to “Why was the book written?” At the time of writing it, there was no intent…no purpose beyond offering something nice to Guru. In fact, the book evolved as a result of a series of experiences I had with Guru
As you know, “sitting at the feet of the Master”, historically speaking, is a position of great honor and opportunity. But I never felt that this was a reflection of me or my own inner capacity. There was nothing about me that “earned” this role. It was, frankly, a boon given to me. I was a piece of fruit that Guru chose. He could easily, and in fact, did choose many others for this role. I felt, therefore, that the role didn’t belong to me and it was my responsibility, or even mandate, to share the experience with others.
This “experience sharing” would typically only take place privately in front of a few friends or spiritual-family members and always in the form of story-telling.
The very first time I formally wrote a story down on paper, I did so only because I thought Guru would enjoy it. I knew that if he liked it, he’d have me read it, but if not, no harm. It was on a Christmas trip in Tenerife. I wrote about an experience which I called NOAMS: No outer attention misery syndrome. It was very frank. It’s easy for me to be frank about my own personal experiences, so here I wrote about how my life changed when Guru first asked me to work on him, how I became very attached to the role, and how I received a very lovely public “blessing-scolding” because of that, etc, etc. So, I was delighted when Guru told me at a group function, “I read your story. Please read it aloud. You have a copy?” I replied that didn’t but I could easily tell the story.
After I told the story, which was well received by the disciples, Guru very kindly invited me to his feet and quietly told me, “You can’t imagine how many people you helped by telling this story.” Thus began both my careers as a writer and public story-teller.
I would regularly submit stories to Guru, and he would equally regularly follow-suit with a “Pradhan, tell that story.” After 3 stories or so, he very nicely told me that I don’t have to submit the stories to him (for pre-approval). He did not have to read them. And on a regular basis, on my birthday and on Christmas trips, Guru would have me tell a story.
For my 31st disciple anniversary, on a Christmas trip, I told Guru I wanted to write a book of 31 stories. Guru enthusiastically encouraged me…really! Sometimes, I would be sitting with Guru and he would call for someone else to sit with him and then tell me, “Go and write,” which I did.
The following April, I submitted the manuscript to Guru with a cover. The original cover was, At the Feet of the Master, subtitled ‘One insignificant disciple’s stories, experiences, recollections and lessons with his Supremely significant Master’. Guru returned the book with a corrected cover, crossing out “the” and replacing it with “my” and then replacing the subtitle with his own written one, “The oneness of an ascending heart-cry and a descending Soul-Smile”. I couldn’t believe it! Then Guru added 2 birds, and picked out a picture of him and me to use on the back. I felt so blessed and honored.
When it came time to offer it to the disciples, Guru set the price and gave it a (still unbelievable to me) endorsement, “Every disciple should read this, and then read it again!”
Now back to your question. I did not write it with an intention. But in hindsight now, I feel the reason I was given the role of working on Guru was because I was gifted with the necessary skills to share the experience with others. So writing the book was simply the culmination of that responsibility.
How did you find experience of writing about the ups and downs of your own spiritual life? Was there anything you found particularly difficult to write about?
I’ve been told by others that they would find it difficult writing about their own ups and downs…exposing themselves, as it were. But for me, honestly, that’s not a problem. My most joy-filled and pain-filled moments were always a result of my own actions. Who doesn’t go through these things, so where is the cause for embarrassment? (I honor others feelings about it…we all have our own things to deal with.) But in fact, the multitude of weaknesses that I carry have made it so completely obvious that the only reason I survived some 40 years was by Guru’s Grace~Patience~Forgiveness~Love for me.
I was not unique in receiving this. When I would sit with Guru, I would witness this same Love~concern directed to all of his disciple-children. Not only would I witness it first hand and up close in how he spoke with others directly, but sometimes I could not help but overhear a phone call, or sometimes, Guru might even mention or discuss things with me. That was always a little funny–discussing a problem that another disciple had, that I also had…and Guru knew it! I think it was another way Guru used to convince me that I could transcend my own difficulties.
The process of writing down one’s experiences is really important. Guru encouraged it. There is something about the process of writing that forces one to be more precise about the recollection than simply talking about it. So, I would encourage all of the disciples to do it, both for posterity’s sake and for their own inspiration’s sake!
After the mahasamadhi of Sri Chinmoy how do find the Master-disciple relationship?
This is a little question with a big answer. In human terms, Guru’s departure from the earth plane was immense for me and a pivotal experience in my spiritual life. I am sure it was that for everyone but let me explain how it played out in my own life.
Guru allowed me to be outwardly close to him. I believe we all get precisely what is required for own spiritual development. I wrote about this in one of my stories. For whatever reason, Guru saw fit to share his outer life with me in a most sacred way.
More than a year before Guru’s leaving, I was sitting with Guru alone. He was in his reclining chair, and I was sitting at Guru’s feet facing him directly. Guru fell asleep, and I remember putting my head down, closing my own eyes, while I simply massaged Guru’s feet, gently, so as not to disturb him. At a certain moment, I looked up at Guru and he was just rousing, but for a brief moment his inner consciousness had not yet fully permeated his body, and I was shocked to see what I interpreted to be his physical by itself without his wakeful consciousness operating. Guru looked over 100 years old! Shocked, and may I admit, dismayed is the right description. Then as Guru more fully awoke, the youthfulness of his ever-present divinity brought life to his physical.
I went home and shared this experience with only one person and told this person that I would be spending every moment I could with Guru because I could see Guru aging. So, in the last year of Guru’s life, I found myself in New York almost 2 weeks a month. I went on every trip so as to be of service should Guru want. (I missed one trip-an overnighter to New Orleans, and received a phone call the next day “Where are you? Why are you not here?!”)
For me, the time I spent with Guru that last year was more intimate, more special. I would typically go to New York and spend 5 hours a day with Guru…2-3 hours in the afternoon, sometimes alone…2-3 hours in the evening. I didn’t receive any “special” or “ruthless” scoldings that year, perhaps an occasional gentle reprimand. And it seemed to me that Guru was pulling everyone in, inviting people in to be closer to him that year…some people whom he hadn’t seen in a long time, friends of the Centre…were all invited to come closer. For every second of Guru’s life, he fought on behalf of his disciples, to the very end. Believe me, if I sensed Guru’s time was coming, he certainly knew.
So, Guru’s departing was shocking to me, as I am sure it was to all of us. And now everything moved inward. Massaging Guru was like being force-fed. It was like taking a bone-dry sponge and putting it in a pan of water: the sponge expands as it absorbs the water. That’s what it was like massaging Guru. I could feel his spiritual force enter into me, and my consciousness could not help but expand. And that is now gone. I can only imagine what those who spent every moment of their day around Guru must have gone through.
Yes, everything moved inner. It had to. There was no choice. And along the way, I had to re-affirm all my faith. It is now 3 years and I feel that perhaps I am coming to grips with it. At the end of this past year, I felt like I was hanging by a thread, but the Christmas trip allowed me to re-consecrate myself again…to deepen my meditation, to run, to read, to do the things that Guru always encouraged us to do. And, I am grateful to say, I feel Guru’s presence very, very strongly and solidly, perhaps the most since that fateful day in October, 2007.
As I look at the world, I realize that, really, Guru’s light such a wonderful solution for a hurting world population. And, as his disciple, it is incumbent upon me to be a vehicle to spread that light. I have to honor Guru’s investment in me. I use the term “investment” here, but it was really his sacrifice.
In this regard, I think spiritual family is so important. Ask anyone else how they view you, and they will always you something which is higher, better, more inspiring than how you see yourself! So, I’ve been keen on living up to others expectations of me. Guru had a higher expectation yet, so this helps!
Guru always said we should claim him, his light. As a disciple, this is our responsibility, and then we should spread it, lovingly, compassionately, as he did with us.
Any plans for a second book?
More than plans…it’s just about done. It’s a book based on the classes I’ve given over the years. It can serve as a guide for anyone teaching a class, or it can actually serve as a seeker guide book. It is now in the final stages of editing and being checked that Guru’s writings are being accurately referenced. I am hoping it will be done and available by the end of February. It’s called A 21st Century Seeker.