Ah, Moon of My Delight

[Listen to Asha read this story]

In January 1950, when Master went into seclusion at his desert retreat to complete his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Swamiji went with him.

“I prayed to Divine Mother and asked Her whom I should take with me to help with the editing,” Master told Swamiji. “Your face appeared. That’s why I am taking you.”

For a few days, Master had Swamiji sit with him while he dictated the commentary. After that, he instructed Swamiji to work on his own at the monks’ retreat a few miles away, going through years of old SRF magazines and clipping out all the articles of commentary by Master on the Bhagavad Gita and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. (Most people think of the Rubaiyat as a love poem. In fact, it is a deep mystical scripture.) While Master finished dictating the rest of the Gita commentary, Swamiji’s job was to begin editing the articles. Master wanted him to do not only the Gita, but also the Rubiayat, and then the Bible.

For several months, mostly in solitude, Swamiji worked on the assignment Master had given him. He never got to the Bible, however, the Gita and the Rubaiyat took all of his time.

Master had asked Swamiji to help him, but he had given final responsibility for the editing to another disciple. That disciple wasn’t interested in the work Swamiji had done. In fact, when she saw all the pages of corrected articles, she simply threw them away. Swamiji was just a young monk, twenty-three years old, and she had been editing Master’s writings for years.

She proceeded at a snail’s pace, however. When she passed away in 1970, twenty years after Master finished his Gita commentaries, none of them had been published. Her successor was equally slow, and forty years after Master’s passing, SRF had still not published any of the commentaries except as articles in the SRF magazines.

Swamiji, by now a mature disciple and a proven writer and editor, naturally wanted to carry out the commission Master had given him so many years before, especially since SRF had done nothing.

The whole of the Rubaiyat commentary had been published in the SRF magazines before Master died. Swamiji had all the articles, but SRF held the copyright, or so he thought.

Several times over the years, SRF had threatened to sue Swamiji for violations, as they saw it, of their copyrighted materials, but they had never followed through. If he edited and published Master’s Rubaiyat, however, Swamiji knew SRF would take him to court and his book might never see the light of day.

When SRF expelled Swamiji in 1962, they assumed he would not be able to accomplish anything on his own—that they would be able, as Tara said at the time, “to forget that you ever lived.” Instead, Swamiji founded Ananda, wrote books and music, and gained a worldwide reputation as a foremost disciple of Master. SRF considers itself to be the sole authorized channel for the dissemination of Master’s teachings. Swamiji’s prominence as a disciple outside of SRF has been a great problem for them.

The dispute is theological: Does Master express only through SRF or can he also come through individual disciples, with or without organizational sanction? Swamiji feels this issue is not just between himself and SRF, but is of concern to all devotees of Master. He speaks openly and frankly about it and has encouraged SRF to do the same. For years, SRF has engaged in a whisper campaign to discredit Swamiji as a disciple, but has refused every invitation from him to engage in open debate.

Finally, in 1990, in an effort to settle the issue once and for all, SRF filed a massive lawsuit against Swamiji and Ananda. They asked the court to grant them exclusive rights to Master and his teachings. Religious monopoly is prohibited by American law, so SRF built their case around copyrights, trademarks, and publicity rights to the “name, image, and likeness of a deceased personality.”

SRF’s claims were so broad that, if they had won, Ananda would have been prohibited from any public use of Master’s name or photograph—prevented, in fact, from describing what we offer as Master’s teachings, or ourselves as his disciples. A few months into the case, the judge told SRF, “It seems to me you are trying to put Ananda out of business.” In America, if you don’t defend yourself against a lawsuit, you lose by default. There was no choice but to fight.

The dispute did not belong in a secular court, but some secular laws did apply. Even religious works can be copyrighted and trademarked. A member of Ananda had openly violated SRF copyrights by distributing to Ananda members copies of hundreds of pages from old, out-of-print SRF magazines that contained Master’s commentary on the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. SRF had not published this material in any other form and it was the only way we could have access to it.

Ananda’s attorney, Jon Parsons, is a good friend of the community, but was not a member or a disciple. Working on this case for twelve years, though, did turn him into a believer. It was Jon who received the inspiration to defend against the charge of copyright violation by challenging the validity of SRF’s copyrights.

“The idea just appeared in my mind,” Jon said later. “It came from Master, that’s the only way I can explain it.”

Excited by the idea, and by the way it had come to him, Jon plunged into the research and soon discovered that SRF had failed to renew the copyrights on most of Master’s original writings. And much of what they had renewed was fraudulently done. SRF owned its later edited versions, but the original writings, the only thing we cared about, were in the public domain.

Within a few years, the judge had ruled decisively in Ananda’s favor on this, and every other significant issue in the case. Through repeated appeals, deliberate delays, and satellite litigation intended to destroy Swamiji’s reputation, SRF extended the case for almost a decade longer. SRF is a wealthy organization and easily spent $50 million on their lawsuit against Ananda. Ananda is not wealthy, and being forced to spend $12 million in our defense drove us right to the edge of bankruptcy. But in the end, Ananda survived, and SRF was defeated.

* * *

Despite the extraordinary expense and the accumulation of several million dollars of debt, the “Lawsuit Years” (1990-2002) were the most creative and expansive in Ananda’s history.

“The more you tell untruths about us,” Swamiji wrote to Daya Mata in 1982, “the more you set up a karmic condition in which the truth must come out.” The lawsuit proved to be a “karmic boomerang” for SRF. Their intention was to close the door to every expression of Master’s teaching except their own. Instead, as a direct result of the lawsuit they filed, the door was opened wide. The court declared: No one can own the Master. Master belongs to the world.

* * *

As soon as the court ruled that the commentary on the Rubaiyat was in the public domain, Swamiji began to work on editing the magazine articles into a book. He made no secret of what he was doing, and SRF soon got wind of it. After delaying for forty years, SRF now announced that it, too, would publish Master’s commentary on the Rubaiyat, just a few months earlier than Swamiji’s book was scheduled to come out.

Swamiji stated frankly that he was editing the commentaries, as Master had asked him to do. SRF made no mention of editing, but gave the impression that their book would be Master’s untouched words. In fact, a disciple in SRF had been working on the editing for years. That was one of the reasons publication had been delayed for so long.

SRF’s claim could not go unchallenged. Otherwise, the SRF book would be Master’s commentary, and Swamiji’s would only be his own. Swamiji wrote a letter to the entire Ananda mailing list, answering the obvious question: Why do a Master’s words need editing?

“People often confuse wisdom with intellectual learning,” Swamiji wrote, “or with the pleasure some deep thinkers find in making clearly reasoned explanations. True wisdom, however, is intuitive; it is an arrow that goes straight to its mark, while the intellect lumbers with labored breathing far behind.

“Master was a sage of intuitive wisdom who disciplined his mind, out of compassion for people of slower understanding, to accept the plodding processes of ‘common sense,’ and to trudge the twisting byways of ordinary human reasoning. His consciousness soared more naturally, however, in skies of divine ecstasy.

“His preferred way of expressing himself was to touch lightly on a point, inviting others to meet him on his own level. It was to us, his disciples, usually, that he left the task of expanding on, or explaining, the truths he presented in condensed form in his writings.”

Swamiji has also explained, “When the creative flow is powerful,” as it was when Master was dictating or writing his commentaries, “one cannot give primary attention to perfecting the outward mode of expression. I can understand very well why great masters rarely phrase their words with the care demanded by a careful and elegant stylist. It is for their disciples, to ‘pick up the pieces.’ Indeed, as my Guru himself indicated to me, this would be the way I myself would grow spiritually.”

Compared to the superconscious awareness needed to intuit the meaning of the scripture as Master did, Swamiji humorously described the subsequent editing process as “rather like plumbing: fitting words, phrases, and sentences together in such a way as to make the ideas flow smoothly” so the reader can more easily grasp the Master’s intention.

Swamiji’s letter soon found its way into the hands of many SRF members, and they began to challenge SRF’s claim. Eventually, SRF was forced to make a virtue of necessity, and began to tout their editor as the only one authorized by Master. Swamiji was content then to let the public read both versions and decide for themselves.

* * *

Master’s commentary was written in the same poetic spirit as the Rubaiyat itself and Swamiji was careful to preserve not only the meaning, but also the beauty of the way Master expressed it. The resulting book is exquisite. Swamiji decided to make an audio recording of it.

Years earlier, a melody for the quatrains themselves had come to Swamiji in a dream. For the audio book, Swamiji sang each quatrain, accompanied by a tamboura, then read the commentary. It was too complicated for the recording engineers at Ananda, so Swamiji arranged to record at a professional studio in the Bay Area.

Hour after hour, Swamiji stood at the microphone in that rented studio, singing each quatrain, then reading Master’s extraordinary commentary. The Rubaiyat is no mere tribute to human love. Master showed it to be a divine scripture of the highest order.

Two and half days later, and more than forty years after Master had first asked him to edit the book, Swamiji began reading the commentary on the next to the last quatrain:

Ah, Moon of my Delight who knowst no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me – in vain!

His voice quavered a little, but the commentary was short and he made it through. Then he sang the last quatrain:

And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made one – turn down an empty Glass!

When he started reading the commentary, his voice quavered as before, but this time, his feelings were more than he could master. Swamiji started over several times, but to no avail. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. He stood at the microphone sobbing with joy.

“So beautiful,” he murmured through his tears. “It is so beautiful. Such a joy to have finished such a great work.”

After some minutes, he was able to read again. The emotional overtones in his voice, however, were so great we knew he would have to do it all over again. It was too much of a contrast to the rest of the book. It was so moving, however, to hear him read in this way, no one dared to interrupt.

When he finished, there was complete silence in the studio. Finally Swamiji asked, “Shall I read that again?” Several people nodded, “Yes.” No one wanted to break that sacred silence.

“All of it?” Swamiji asked, meaning everything he’d read since he began to cry. Again we nodded.

Later he said, “No one can imagine the energy it took to do this.” He meant not only writing the commentary itself, but all the years of holding fast to what Master had told him to do, in the face of unrelenting persecution from his fellow disciples.

“I couldn’t contain my joy,” he said. “It wasn’t just the fact of having finished this book. It was the joy of being part of such a great, great work.”

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