[Listen to Asha read this story]

Jody* wanted to leave Ananda, at least for a time, so he could concentrate on writing and recording an album of his own songs. People at Ananda are free to come and go as they please, but Jody didn’t want to make such an important decision without first getting Swamiji’s advice.

“Spiritually,” Swamiji said, “it would be better for you to stay here and continue to sing the music I have written. Later you can write songs of your own.”

This was not the answer Jody was looking for. “I love your music,” he said. “But you know how it is to be an artist. Sometimes you just have to express yourself.”

“No,” Swamiji replied, rather sternly, “I don’t know how it is. Nothing I have done has been to express myself. If I never wrote another word or note, it wouldn’t matter to me.”

Swamiji went on to explain what does motivate his prodigious creative output – he has written scores of books, composed hundreds of pieces of music, taken thousands of photographs, and even done a few paintings.

“I am not an artist,” Swamiji said. “I am a disciple. As a disciple, I am driven by the thought of all that is needed to fulfill Master’s mission. Everywhere there is such hunger for it. When it comes to serving Master’s work, I feel like I am sitting on top of a volcano of creativity. It would take more energy to suppress that creative urge than simply to let it keep on erupting.”

To Jody, he said, “Right now, the songs you write are imitative. If you can get more in tune spiritually, then you will be able to create music that is truly original. Attunement will come to you more easily here in the community, where you have the support of like-minded friends, than if you go out on your own.”

“To be original,” Swamiji explained on another occasion, “doesn’t mean doing something that has never been done before. It means to come from one’s own point of origin, which is to say, God within, one’s higher self. Creativity is simply the expression of the inspiration you feel inside.”

Later, Swamiji said to a few of us, “It is a bit awkward, having to recommend ‘my’ music. I am not impressed with myself as a composer. I am, however, very impressed by the compositions that have come through me. They express the vibration of this path and for that reason can help people spiritually.

“So many artistic people,” Swamiji explained, “go about it in the wrong way when they think ‘I am going to create a poem, or a song, or a painting.’ I think first of the consciousness I want to express. When I have that clearly in mind, then I ask God to help me express it through whatever medium I am using.

“I don’t feel I have done anything. God has done it through me. The ‘secret’ behind my creativity is the power of the guru. I can’t tell where I end and Master begins.”

* * *

Swamiji made a slide show composed entirely of photographs he had taken of people from many countries, cultures, ages, and states of consciousness. He called it Different Worlds. For the sound track, he wanted a melody that would express the entire human condition: joy, sorrow, aspiration, fulfillment – everything.

“I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, but I began to think it was impossible to put all that into one melody. ‘Before I give up,’ I thought, ‘let me give it one more try.’ I sat down at the piano and prayed, ‘God, give me a melody.’ Then I watched as my hands played the notes.

“A friend happened to be nearby and heard what I was playing. ‘That is the perfect melody for Different Worlds,’ she exclaimed. And it was.

* * *

“When I visited the Holy Land [Israel] in 1985, the inspiration I felt was complete in itself. I didn’t need to express it outwardly. When melodies came to me, though, that expressed the consciousness of that experience, I saw that the music could be a bridge between Master’s teachings and the Christian churches.

“I had to work hard to take what I felt inside and make it into the Oratorio, but I was happy to do it for the sake of Master’s mission.”

* * *

Swamiji got into photography because pictures were needed and no one else at that time was photographing Ananda in the way he thought it should be done. Several years later, when others also began to take fine pictures, Swamiji put down his camera and hasn’t picked it up since.

He created a few paintings, too, when they were needed and he couldn’t find an artist who could express the inspiration he felt. The painting of the spiritual eye, for example, was for a booklet of Master’s Prayer for the Disciples, which Swamiji printed as a Christmas gift for the monks when he was still in SRF.

“I had my heart set on including an uplifting painting as a frontispiece. A member of the Hollywood Church had a daughter living in Germany who had done some beautifully sensitive paintings, almost astral in quality. I asked the member if she could ask her daughter to do the frontispiece and she agreed.

“At the beginning of December, I received several paintings from her. They were entirely unsuitable – angels playing violins, that sort of thing. Another member of the congregation was an artist for Walt Disney and I asked him to make a sketch. It, too, fell far short of what I wanted.

“I sat in meditation and asked Master for an inspiration, thinking I could then convey it to the Disney artist. Immediately the inspiration came to make a painting of the spiritual eye. I thought it would help the artist if I made a graphic illustration of it, so I bought some watercolors and brushes.

“I meditated as I worked. I made mistakes, but gradually the painting as it is now emerged. In the end, every ‘mistake’ proved a necessary part of building up the proper texture for the final result.

“I wanted a sense of surge, like a wave, carrying one up to the spiritual eye. First, the way I painted it, the ‘waves’ were just blackish curves. That didn’t work, so with a fine brush I painted innumerable white lines all sweeping upward and inward toward the spiritual eye. They proved too brilliant, so I covered them over with a fine blue wash. All those different layers gave it a deeper dimension.”

At the base of the spiritual eye, Swamiji painted a figure seen from the back, which was Master reaching upward toward the light. “Master’s arms,” Swamiji said, “I deliberately curved in such a way as to complement the wave effect and the round spiritual eye, and his hair line was drawn to complement those other lines.

“I had planned to make the painting just to give the artist an idea of what I wanted. It came out so well, however, I didn’t need another artist after all.”

Over the years, the painting has been used in many different ways, including on the cover Swamiji’s autobiography.

“The other paintings I’ve done all happened in the same way. I couldn’t find a professional artist to express the inspiration I felt, so I did it myself. No doubt, my paintings are ‘primitives.’ They please me and seem also to touch others, though, because of the feeling they generate.”

* * *

“Too often on the spiritual path,” Swamiji explained on another occasion, “devotees are afraid to be creative because they think creativity itself leads to ego. This is not true. When the ego is offered into the divine, then creative work becomes an expression of God. Then it helps you spiritually.

“In fact, in order to grow, you have to express yourself in this way – creatively, as an instrument of the divine.

“People can look at what I have done in two ways,” Swamiji explained. “They can point to my accomplishments and say, ‘My, isn’t he talented!’ Or they can try to understand how I have done it. Then they can take the inspiration they feel inside and express it creatively. This is what I have done, and what I hope others will also be inspired to do.”

The melody for one of the most beloved songs in the Ananda repertoire, O Master, was not written by Swamiji, but by a woman in the community named Mukti. She also wrote lyrics. The chorus is hers, but the verses Swamiji rewrote to be clearer and more poetic. When Mukti heard Swamiji’s version, she was delighted. “Yes!” she said. “That is exactly what I was trying to say!”

“Mukti took the inspiration she felt from my songs,” Swamiji said, “and used it to tune into her own creativity, to express the divine in her way. She succeeded beautifully. I can hardly listen to that song without weeping.”

“What we are trying to do,” Swamiji once said to me, “is revamp a whole culture, to show how Master’s teachings, creatively applied, can change the entire pattern of our society. I am just one person, and there is only so much I can accomplish by myself. If I can start a movement, however, and many people begin to act creatively from inner inspiration, as I have, then a great work can be done.”

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