Swami Aseshananda went to America to spread the word of Vedanta and remained there between 1948 to 1996, never to return to India even once. Such was his commitment to the vision of Sri Sarada Devi, his teacher, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. It is said that when he bowed down in the shrine at the Portland Center, he seemed to melt to the floor.
Babaji Bob Kindler came into contact with Swami Aseshananda, a direct disciple of Sri Sarada Devi, in ‘a very meaningful mystical way’. He was born near Portland, Oregon in 1950, at a time when the swami had just come West from India. Years later, the Swami moved to the Vedanta Society of Portland to take up several decades of teaching there while Babaji grew up as a young boy just across the Willamette River from him.
After college Babaji moved to Hawaii where he met Lex Hixon, who told him of the swami's presence back in Portland. In his twenties, Babaji would return to Portland yearly to see some of his family who were still living there. “So I met him, attended the Vedanta center, recognized my path and guru, asked him for mantra-diksha, and soon received it on Holy Mother's (Sri Sarada Devi's) Jayanti one year later,” says Babaji Bob Kindler in an interview with CSP.
What is the role and influence of Sri Sarada Devi in your life?
There is a song in India that states in one of its lines, "Once, I heard my guru say that he worshipped God as Mother. Now I do the same." Both Lex Hixon and I were Westerners who had no problem whatsoever in seeing God as Mother. That perspective was helped along by reading the "Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna" early on in our sadhana period. Though I also loved the masculine forms of divinity that India held, and was keenly searching for the truth of Advaita as well, my Ishtam was clearly Divine Mother — particularly Kali. In Sri Sarada Devi I found Ma Kali personified, in form, in our times. So that was Her prime role for me; also, as the guru of my guru, my Paramaguru, since Sri Sarada personally initiated Swami Aseshananda in India before he came West.
As far as Her message is concerned, there are many aspects to that. I am especially inspired, though, by Her otherworldliness, or transcendence of relativity, which somehow gets so perfectly fused with Her concern for suffering beings. What else can I say, but that my life is fully centered and my mind is always at peace since meditating on this lofty aspect, and upon Her as my Ishta-devi for 50 year now. And of course, there is much more.
You have used music to promote the message of Vedanta. Where and how did you learn your music?
In Portland, Oregon, as a youth, I was trained classically in Western symphonic music. That type of intense discipline went well with the spiritual yearnings of my youth. By learning to concentrate deeply on sound, the natural ability awoke in me over time to both recognize Mother Wisdom in the dharma teachings, or Atmajnan, and to have experiences detecting the vibration of The Word, AUM, within. SRV is about to release a Youtube video that follows this twin path of combining Shabda Brahman and Jnana Yoga together — how that worked for me, both inwardly, and in daily life.
How does music act as a vehicle of your message?
At first, in my youth, music was all and everything. Upbringing and society groomed me, as they do all youth, to follow this trajectory towards popularity and financial stability. But I soon found out that these were not the important elements of true living, that they were even hollow and could be misleading. Awakening into the path of sound as God came to me, along with the knowledge that all sounds, not just notes, were "God's Voice." At that point I placed Wisdom foremost over music, i.e., made music subservient to Truth.
How do the fundamental teachings of Hinduism come together with your guru's instructions and your personal sadhana in your teachings?
The boon of learning to share the dharma with students matured over some 20 years of intense sadhana under the guru's guidance which, for me, fell specifically in the Vedanta darshana. Vedanta is Jnanamarg, nondual wisdom. The worldly path that most beings follow here is called the Bhogamarg, a misleading path that is caught up with surface enjoyments. Yoga as practice/sadhana, is Yogamarg, the specific mental/spiritual practice all must do in this world, in the embodied condition, whether they are enlightened or not.
Swami Aseshananda brought these distinctions out for his followers which, in my case, got adhered to under the transforming influence of the Vedic tradition overall. "Follow the Tradition," he would sometimes yell at us inside the walls of the Vedanta Society, as if to impress upon arrogant Westerners that following their own personal way of the ego while calling it freedom was not the way to liberation at all. That is why the United States sings that anthem that goes "....and the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air," etc. It is all war-mongering, and few here in this country have the wherewithal to turn against such folly and seek Peace, ahimsa. Now, in this crazy age, even India has a flotilla of battleships, and shoots missiles at their neighbours. It is unconscionable.
So, I might add here, that it is the contemporary Vedanta brought by Swami Vivekananda, not cultural Hinduism that has the real transforming power in it. India’s Advaita, the nondual element at the foundation of all religious traditions, duly expanded my personal sadhana, and still leads it on. I cannot lose my faith in a lost Hinduism and a pseudo-spiritual India because true religion and exacting philosophy are still underlying her. But Advaita must be championed, raised up, and adopted.
What do you think Vivekananda would have advised Indians today, when Sanathana Dharma is assaulted by both Western counter narratives as well as domestic non-beliefs?
It is not hard to find his views and his instructions on these subjects. Just read the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda for elucidation, and get a complete mental transformation — along with a stripping away of the tired, old, foggy thinking of today. His letters to devotees are particularly revealing of his real views.
However, this question points to the vice-grip that is tightening around India today, and all nations. There is too much interest in the surface preoccupations of the material world on one side, and not enough discrimination utilized in staving off the secular encroachments of Western ways of thinking on the other. The advent of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda in India in the 1800's augured a sign of things to come, at a time when the English were exercising the occult power of domination over others like never before. As Swami Aseshananda used to say, pointing to both Eastern and Western hypocrisy, “If you want God you get Peace; if you want power you get Rolls-Royces.....”
A return to the teachings of India's ancient rishis is the solution for all the ills of this world, especially if they be interpreted through the lens of the new dispensation of Sarada/Ramakrishna/Vivekananda. Then the diseases of the mind that are beginning to obscure both dharma and non-duality from our inward gaze will be healed. Sadhana, as you mention here, is key to this. Few accomplish any substantial internal discipline in their lifetimes, and I mean beyond the intellectual frame of reference. As Lord Buddha, our precious Indian rishi, stated, we need to gather dharma drops in our dharma bucket. Without this bucket of spiritual practice and its wise accumulations due to time well spent, none of the actions of our lives will amount to much in the end.
How can Advaita help negotiate through the many problems facing American life today? What are the main problems according to you?
Not just in America anymore, but world-wide, apathy and disinterest are the evils, i.e., turning away from God/Brahman, from the Lord and Mother of the Universe, and from the non-dual Truth they teach and represent. In the Great Master's time, "worldliness" was the "chronic disease," and He was looking out upon Bengali society in the 1800's when He stated this. In the 1960's, I heard the Tibetan teacher, Jamgong Kontrul Rinpoche, say that “distraction” was the problem he saw plaguing that time. Now, today, it is just tamasic apathy. We are interested only in matter, as if there were some secret in it. The only real secret abides in Us, and always has, for all of nature has come out of Us. We need to get reinterested in the internal principles that fuel our external processes. This will cause the return of what has been called, nicely, “The Adventure of Consciousness.”
A battery with no acid left in it simply will not charge. People are so much behind in their spiritual lives nowadays that they will need to somehow, somewhere, find the acid of Truth and attempt to inject it into the mind (like through a guru). But if there is no interest, how can this happen? As Swami Vivekananda was wont to say, "Mud cannot wash mud." The soul needs something innately pure to cast off the ills it has embroiled itself in, and gain back the inspiration that will lead it to Moksha, Mukti — which is its original State.
What is the role of Yoga in Vedanta? Does it help in a kind of preparation to absorb the self and then move towards liberation?
Yoga for Vedanta is like water for crops. To avoid shaping the Vedanta into a narrow version of itself that either panders to dualism and ritualism on one side, or remains only transcendental on the other, thereby not helping the people, is accomplished by Yoga — particularly The Four Yogas that Swami Vivekananda has reintroduced into the world in this time — what he called "The New Religion of this Age."
When Swamiji was in the body, he said and wrote to the effect that he hoped people would not misinterpret his message, but keep it purely spiritual. He did not, for instance, want it interpreted in the light of politics, or social activism. We see this crippling tendency happening already in India. Many beings, some of them quite intelligent, are trying to make him into a statesman, an altruist, and the like. His was the blazing "Fire of Yoga,” not the muddy waters of worldliness and its concerns.
So, what about helping others, and the world? His motto for the Order He founded begins with "For the realization of the Self," and thereafter mentions "and for the highest good of the world." Notice the order. One cannot really help the world, for it is impure by nature. And helping people? That can only be accomplished (without committing many errors in the interim) after one has realized the Self, Atman, to be "the only Existence," as the Indian scriptures state, again and again. In addition, people must want to be helped; so many of them do not want your help.
So, it is only by practice based in austerity that the highest good will come, and practice is one of the two elements of Yoga (the other being natural Union). As Swamiji often quipped, there are temples by the hundreds, and books by the thousands, but oh, for an ounce of practice.
What has been the mission of your life. How far have you travelled to spread the message of Sanathana Dharma?
According to Sri Ramakrishna, the mission, or goal, of every soul’s life, is to realize God. I feel fortunate to be able to spread abroad the message that was gifted to me by the Holy Trio through my guru. I feel that this mission is already lifetimes long. He once told me that I would have to take teachings that were inaccessible and make them accessible to all. According to Swami Vivekananda, India herself is in dire need of rediscovering her own divine heritage. The best of India, though timeless and eternal, is in the past. Those who love India should rise up and bring what once was into the present, so that India’s future will manifest the spiritual leader that she is intended to be. India must escape the spiritual sensationalism and occult spectacle that is now beginning to masquerade as her true spirituality. If she does not, that would be a waste, and a shame. There is simply nothing like Indian Dharma in the entire world, for it is graced by Advaita, nonduality. Though present in all religions, where else does one find that superlative axiom so evident in any other religion?
How can youngsters benefit from Vedanta? Have you included them in your programmes?
Awakening the youth of today, particularly spiritually, should be reckoned as being of eminent importance. The spiritual apathy I mentioned earlier has, and is, taking over their lives. In India there is no excuse for this, since the truths of dharma are in the samskaras of the Hindu mind. But here in America, for the most part, dharmic impressions are not present; even morality, here, is of a questionable kind. Precious few ever taught their children the dharma here; it has been unknown here for so long. As Vivekananda has pointed out, in these modern times, irreligion has replaced true religion, in both countries.
In SRV Associations we have been fortunate to see some dedicated Western youth (as well as some Hindu youth) come our way over the several decades we have been sharing the wisdom of India in America and abroad. To those who come we teach the depths of Raja Yoga, the truths of Vedanta, the basics of Sankhya Yoga, the subtleties of Buddhism, and more. But there needs to be support for young people to live a spiritual life. The weight of overly-expensive education absorbs all their time, and then puts them in debt for years thereafter. Later, the need to seek employment in order to pay for that education, all while trying to support a family, follows. This kind of life saps the energy of a young person, with the only outcome and recourse being living a worldly life devoid of spirituality. Peace of mind is the first thing to go here, and it is followed by a superficial, surface existence. According to Sri Krishna, this is the road to ruination.
For centuries in India, the kula-guru system taught youth to value illumined souls and spiritual discipline. But ritualism has taken the fore now — as if throwing money at gods and goddesses who already have everything is somehow going to solve the earth's many problems. Fallen religion always defaults to this lowly route. It is mainly a problem with the priest-class, as Vivekananda observed while here on earth, and it happens in every country, with every religion. Again, Sri Krishna says so in the Gita.
To help aspiring youth remain clear of matter and money as the goal of human existence can only be effected by exemplars of spirituality who are in possession of it, not by those who have abandoned it and are walking along the lines of the trap that Western materialism has set for itself and then fallen into in our age. I recently heard a guru of the Indian pop-spirituality culture say that all beings should lighten up, and not be so serious. He was defining Yoga. Let me tell you: Enlightenment was never gained by anyone who was not serious about it. As Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, told us when She was in the body, "The Master and His devotees did not come to earth to enjoy fun. They all know how fortunate they are to have gained a human birth...."