One day someone asked me, “How can I progress in spite of everyday difficulties?” I gave the somewhat hard answer, “How can you get to the second floor in spite of the stairs?” So the real question on the path is: “How can I progress on the Way thanks to every day difficulties.”
– Arnaud Desjardins
My thanks to Michel Tardieu for this wonderful website and introducing me to French Advaita Vedanta Master Arnaud Desjardins. My impression of him is that he was the “real deal” (he passed away just last year) and that one on the advaitan path could learn so much from such a wise and good-hearted teacher.
In those years, I was a professional filmmaker, working for French television. One of the things Mataji used to crucify my ego and teach me was the film I was shooting in her ashram. She sometimes granted me exceptional opportunities and then caused me to waste my last rolls, which I had very much been counting on. This was hard to accept. Following the advice of one of her ashramites, I had preciously saved three rolls of film until the very end of my stay. This had caused me to renounce shooting scenes which could have been important. Then, during those last days, every time I started filming, Anandamayi Ma, in front of everybody, either turned her head or winced. This was all the more cruel to me since I believed the person who had asked me to save those rolls had been inspired by Ma. Eventually, Ma only allowed me to shoot one roll. As this was after sunset, I was convinced there would be no visible image on the film. Incredible as it may seem, there was something: three of what may well be the most beautiful shots of the whole film, where Ma can be seen at night surrounded by a few disciples. These miraculous forty seconds were worth the sacrifice of those three rolls. Once she asked me to project the images which to me were most precious with some worn-out Indian equipment, when I knew for sure that it would irremediably damage the film.
I also remember a particular incident. I had always dreamed of meeting what I then called true yogis—not yoga teachers, but yogis having attained mastery over certain energies or developed certain powers. To me, those yogis embodied the whole legend of India. They lived in the high valley of the Ganges where I had not yet been able to go, since the Indian government had not granted me the special permit then necessary to travel to that region. One of those famous yogis was about to come down to the plains to visit Anandamayi Ma. On this very day, Ma asked me if I could travel with my Land Rover to a distance of some 150 kilometers where I was to pick up some luggage and bring it back. The roads were not tarred, it was raining, there was mud all over, so that when I left the ashram, the yogi had not arrived, and when I came back, he had already left. To me, at the time, this was a terrible disappointment indeed, a broken dream.
Every time my ego desperately wanted to be acknowledged by Ma, circumstances were such that I could not see her privately for weeks. But once, when, after having gone through what one usually calls intense pain, I at last changed my inner attitude, she herself took me for a ride in the car. I was alone with her, the driver, and a great pundit whom I very much admired. She had me sit next to her and did not allow anyone else to go with us.
We often had the impression that others were also brought to teach us and that the whole world was consciously or unconsciously serving Mother’s purpose. She was an incredible source of energy, the center of a huge activity.
It is difficult to imagine what surrender to Anandamayi Ma, as some of her closest disciples were living it, could mean. I remember one monk whose ideal of life was to meditate. He had been meditating in an isolated ashram in the Himalayas and was very happy, until Ma appointed him as the swami in charge of the Delhi ashram. Every day, he had to deal with curious visitors, Europeans, people from the embassies and consulates. He was forced to be no longer a meditator but an administrator, immersed head to toe in active life—the exact opposite of what he had been aspiring to. He was working twenty hours a day and I even once saw him slowly fall down. He had simply fallen asleep while walking. Just contemplating Anandamayi’s radiant smile, one could not imagine the pressure she put on some—in the name of ultimate freedom.
To conclude, I’d like to say that, remembering Ma as well as my guru, Swami Prajnanpad, I feel especially grateful for the occasions when they caused me pain, when they brought suffering to my ego. They, of course, never did me any harm. On the contrary, everything they did, whether they smiled or were angry at me, served my ultimate good. But they certainly made me feel severely hurt at times.
And the truth is, one cannot make any progress in one’s sadhana if one’s ego and mind are not sometimes painfully shaken.
Arnaud Desjardins is the author of many books, including two which have been translated into English: Toward the Fullness of Life (Threshold Books) and The Jump Into Life: Moving Beyond Fear (Hohm Press). He resides and teaches at his ashram, Hauteville, in the south of France. (died in 2011)
An adult is one who has lost the grace, the freshness, the innocence of the child, who is no longer capable of feeling pure joy, who makes everything complicated, who spreads suffering everywhere, who is afraid of being happy, and who, because it is easier to bear, has gone back to sleep. The wise man is a happy child. ~ Arnaud Desjardins