Jnana Yoga

I could feel the moisture accumulating in my eyes as he finished saying that. I felt like if I had been banned from a dearly beloved place for ages and now finally someone was granting me a safe passage back to it. I asked for his name and he said his name was Swami Azitananda. So we thanked him for his hospitality and for keeping that place as beautiful as it is, said goodbye and went our way back to the Bay Area. The following day I called the Vedanta Center in San Francisco and made an appointment with the Swami who oversees the Vedanta Society of Northern California.

The admittance process was very simple. I first called the Center’s number that I got from the phone book and asked the lady who answered to kindly put me through to the Swami in question, whose name I have forgotten. She put me through to the Swami’s secretary and I told her exactly what Swami Azitananda said I should say. She said she could schedule an appointment with him for me and asked me whether the following Monday at around 2:00 PM would be OK, to which I said yes. The following week, on the day and at the time convened, I was at the Vedanta Center in San Francisco sitting on a comfortable sofa of the Swami’s secretary’s office.

About five past two the door to the Swami’s office opened and there appeared a medium-height Indian-looking man in his early fifties, dressed in a typical white and light-brown Indian robe, gesturing me to step inside in a rather business-like manner. I went in past by him and sat down in the chair where he gestured me to sit. His office was noticeably smaller than his secretary’s and the furniture in there consisted of only one small desk and two chairs. I do not recall seeing anything else in there that particularly attracted my attention.

The Swami sat down across the desk from me and, looking at me straight in the eye, asked me with a gentle voice, but still in a business-like manner, “What can I do for you?” I just mentioned that I had talked to Swami Azitananda about my desire to visit the Olema Center every once in a while and that he had suggested I spoke to him about it. He asked me whether I followed any kind of teachings and I mentioned Ramana Maharshi, emphasizing that I had been practicing Ramana’s Atma-Vichara for over a year already. Then he asked me how I had managed to get in contact with Swami Azitananda and I told him that one day I had just driven into the Vedanta center in Olema where I had a short conversation with him.

He inquired whether I had seen the sign at the Center’s entrance saying “No Trespassing,” and I said yes. So he kindly asked me again, this time with a mildly inquisitive look in his eyes: “You mean you saw the sign saying ‘No Trespassing’ and you still went in?” To which I replied with a sincere and guiltless “Yes.” So he very casually said: “OK. You can go stay at the center whenever you want. Just call my secretary a few days in advance so that she may double check on the availability of rooms.” Then he unceremoniously stood up and kindly extended his right hand across the desk towards me, clearly meaning that our conversation was over. I gently shook his hand and, smiling into his eyes, I said something formal like “thank you very much Swami” and then walked out of his office.

Once facing the secretary again, I asked her whether I could call her later in the week to schedule my first visit to the Center and she said I could call her any working day between two and four in the afternoon. The Vedanta Center had just opened its doors to me. Now it was only a matter of months before I would consciously meet my Eternal Self again.

There are two retreat houses at the Vedanta Center in Olema, one for men and one for women. The white house I mentioned above is the one for men. The one for women is located around the inbound road’s first bend, hidden behind one of the small hills. That building is much more modern than the white house and it looks more like a mountain resort than like a retreat center. I have never been inside there, so I cannot describe its interiors. There are also other Vedanta Centers in the southern part of the state which are supervised by the Vedanta Society of Southern California. The one in Santa Barbara, which has a beautiful wooden Temple facing an outstanding view of the Santa Barbara Channel, became one of my favorite places once I moved to that area, but I have never been to any of the other sites.

As it happened, about two weeks after talking to the Swami in San Francisco, at around two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, I was again pulling my car onto the Olema Vedanta Center’s parking grounds. This time, however, I was there to stay for the weekend.

As I was gathering my stuff from the back of my wagon, there came behind me a rather short blond man in his early fifties, dressed in blue working clothes and wearing rubber boots, extending his right hand to me and saying “Hi, you are here to stay until tomorrow, right?” I shook his hand, said yes and continued grabbing my stuff while he talked to me about the room I was getting and where I could find extra blankets if I wanted and other similar things. As we were walking towards the house he talked to me about the work they were doing in the garden and I think he also mentioned some things about the house itself. Once inside the house he took me to the second floor, where the bedrooms are located, and showed me into one of them. There were seven bedrooms in total.

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