My initiation in Vendanta was a gift from Swami Swahananda, whose teacher, Swami Vijnananda, was a direct disciple of Ramakrishna, the founder of this order. I will not reveal the rituals of the initiation, and certainly not the mantra which Swamiji gave to me. But I will share what was going through me as the initiation progressed.
I sat in meditation facing the altar for about 30 minutes before my friends Brahmaprana and Atmarupananda arrived. They have been part of the Ramakrishna Order since their youth, and it is because of them that Swami Swahananda agreed to initiate me into the Order in the Sanctuary rather than his private quarters.
Pictures of Ramakrishna, Vevekananda, Vijnanananda, and Jesus mingled with statues of Buddha, Krishna, Ganesha and others. I felt at home. These were and have been my teachers for decades. Swami Swahananda entered the room and took a seat by the altar. I sat crossed-legged on a cushion at his feet.
He spoke to me about the nature of God, spiritual practice, and what I was expected to do as an initiate of this Order. He encouraged me to add the mantra and meditation he was about to bestow upon me to the rest of my spiritual work. Nothing need be rejected; Torah was as precious a revelation as Veda.
He knew that I had a special relationship to God as Mother, and it was to Her that he geared my initiation, teaching me two mantra that speak directly to devotees of the Mother, people like myself. At first I tried to memorize every word he spoke. But I soon realized I was missing half of it. I simply closed my eyes and listened and breathed. I would absorb what I could through the heart, and leave the mind alone.
As I struggled to accurately repeat the Sanskrit mantrum he was imparting to me, I felt the humbleness of being a beginner once again. It was liberating. I didn’t have to know, I was simply invited to learn. In time, Swami assured me, I would find the mantra easy to recite, and through them I would come to the imageless place of the Infinite God manifest as all finite reality. As he taught me the two mantra specifically linked to the Mother my heart opened. I felt Her presence, within and around me.
Then, all of a sudden, it was over. Swamiji invited me to pose for pictures with him and my two Vedanta friends, and then returned to his rooms to change into street clothes for a car ride to San Diego. I was presented with a mala, a strand of 108 beads to use to help me keep count of my mantra repetitions, and these were taken to Swamiji who blessed them by being the first to chant a mantra with each bead.
So now what? Am I different this afternoon than I was early this morning. Of course. So are you. Does this difference matter? Yes, but no more than any other change. God is change, reality is change, you and I are change. Note I didn’t say we are changing for that implies we are something that changes into something else. This is not so. To be change is to be nothing at all. The “I” I feel myself to be at this moment is not the same as the I, I felt myself to be a moment ago. What ties moments together is the narrative I spin about who I am. The story creates a continuity that reality rejects.
Did Swamiji teach me this? No, I have known it for decades. But he did remind me of it, and did so in a way that will allow me to note that there is no me at all, at least for a moment. Or two.