We are happy to announce a new book by Terry Clark, At the Feet of an Avadhut, Life lessons Learned Serving Sri Kaleshwar, which we will be sharing in installments.
Terry was Sri Kaleshwar’s personal attendant, a soul mate, and ‘grandfather’, as Sri Kaleshwar would affectionally call him. His stories share invaluable glimpses into the life and actions of an incredible saint. They are priceless gifts and tools for all students of spirituality.
At the Feet of an Avadhut:
Life Lessons Learned Serving Sri Kaleshwar
By Terry 'Sundaram' Clark
I was Sri Kaleshwar’s (Swami’s) personal attendant for eleven years in India. I spent thousands of hours with him, and during that time he asked me numerous times to tell the truth about him, and about his life. He felt very strongly about this. He asked me to tell the truth about what I had seen and experienced with him. He said that all the things that happened needed to be written down, so people can know what it’s like to be around an avadhut.
Most people don’t have any idea of what an avadhut is but the world really needs to know. An avadhut is a being who lives in the highest state of consciousness. Avadhuts are incomprehensible to the limited mind, their actions are inscrutable and are misunderstood. Avadhuts operate from beyond the mind, from universal consciousness. They live and operate from oneness. Avadhuts are the greatest blessing for humanity. A person in avadhut consciousness is really capable of changing the world, like Shirdi Baba and Bhagawan Nityananada.
Swami never taught me directly about this, but I must have gotten something right because he kept me so close to him for all those years. When I came to him I didn’t have any idea of what an avadhut was. Through years of serving him and seeing the results of multiple interactions with him I got to see good results and bad results. Based on observation and experimentation I came up with my own ideas of how an avadhut operates and how you should interact with one. So much of what I figured out seems like common sense but I saw over and over that people kept making the same mistakes with understanding and handling the avadhut energy.
To understand what Swami gave, and to reach the highest levels of consciousness, you have to understand how the avadhut energy operates. It does not follow the normal rules of society. That energy doesn’t make sense to our minds, and especially our egos, but there are ways to approach that energy that will help people to succeed. Even now I see that, although many students have done extremely advanced spiritual sadhanas, they missed some of these basic concepts and are stuck in their spirituality and are still struggling in their lives.
Avadhut translates as unconditional love. An avadhut lives and operates in unconditional love and exists to take care of our souls. But there are certain things that energy requires of us in order to do its job. Even though Swami is no longer in his body, the avadhut energy is still working powerfully in the lives of anyone who has a connection to him and this lineage. It is my hope that through sharing what I learned while serving him, spiritual students can learn how to win God’s heart and receive whatever they are eligible for in this lifetime.
I met Swami in Malibu in August 1997.
My leg had been badly broken; I had an external bar on the outside of my leg and was on crutches. My leg was shattered, it wasn’t just a simple break. It didn’t feel horrible, but was quite bad and was scary to others to look at since a metal rod was drilled into my leg from the outside. Gaya, the mother of my friend, Ramakrishna, told me, “You could use a healing. There is a young Indian man coming and he is really good.”
But I wasn’t interested in anything Indian anymore. I had already had an Indian guru and felt I had gone as far as I could with that experience. But for some reason, I went to Malibu anyway to meet Swami and stayed at Gaya and Ramakrishna’s house. Gaya kept telling me to ask Swami for a healing. I thought it seemed obvious that I was in need of healing, with a big thing hanging off my leg and my crutches. But she told me that the way it works is you actually have to ask, you can’t just assume that he will give you a healing.
I positioned myself in a place where Swami had to walk by. He had to walk right in front of me, so I knew this was my chance. As he walked by, I asked him for a healing. He didn’t say anything. He clearly heard me, he clearly saw me, but he just walked right by.
Some nights later we were meditating in a big yurt. Swami was spinning his arm from the shoulder and vibhuti was shooting out of his sleeve. It was like a hose! A huge amount of vibhuti covered the entire room. Swami was spinning his arm and covered a man who had cancer with it. The smell in the room was intoxicating. He went around the yurt and when he came to me, the first thing I thought was that he had thrown hot water on me and I jumped!
Afterward, he called everyone to a room in a different building. I went down with my crutches and sat in the back. I had black clothes on and you could see that the left side of my body was covered in vibhuti, but not the right. It was my left leg that had been broken. A simple fracture is not a big deal, but shattering bone is much more serious. At the time, I was about halfway through the healing process. Within weeks I was able to start weight bearing, and most importantly, I had no complications. It took ten months to heal finish healing, but I had no problems. Years later Swami commented on our first meeting, that I came with my sticks (crutches). He remembered that.
Soon after meeting Swami, I attended my first workshop with Swami in Malibu. He was giving out mantras but I couldn’t understand him at all. He was going around looking at everyone’s papers, I was terrified he would come over and I would get kicked out for being such a terrible student.
I sat in the very back because of my leg. He would say words, he would spell them and wanted us to write them down. It was such a shock to come to a spiritual teacher and the first thing he said was get your pen and paper out and start writing the mantras down. Swami’s accent was so heavy at the time. I was thinking, ‘I have no idea what he is talking about! It makes no sense!’ The parts that I did understand I wrote down, but mostly I was copying off the people around me. I really could not understand what he was saying. Finally, he did come over and corrected only one small thing out of all the things I had wrong. But I also knew deep inside I couldn’t hide anything from him. Even though I couldn’t understand him, there was something about him that was just so appealing.
The next weekend, I went to Mill Valley to the Shakti Pantanjali workshop. In that workshop, Swami gave us an option in the process to choose a divine soul to connect to: Baba, Swami, or Jesus. My mother was a Sunday school teacher so I was raised Christian, more or less against my will. So I would not have chosen Jesus. My feeling was to choose Swami because I felt so much closer to him than anyone. Even then I felt he knew me so well, he was super familiar to me. He came up to me during the process and I was supposed to say who I felt was closest to, but before I could say anything, he said, “Jesus.” I was shocked.
This has consistently been my experience with Swami. So often his behavior was not how I thought a Guru or a Master would behave. He was very different, and different in a really beautiful way. Over the years, I would come to see how many ideas and concepts I was carrying about what a Master is, and about what it meant to be with a Master. He would challenge all of it. After the Malibu program I stayed at Gaya’s house. Swami wanted to do a fire puja, and Ramakrishna wanted to go. Ramakrishna invited me to come so we could hang out with Swami. I asked if he had invited us. Ramakrishna was quite casual; he said it would be fine if I came. I had a little feeling that it might not be, but I went. When we got to where the event was, Ramakrishna interacted with Swami, but I stayed a little distant. Swami gave instructions where he wanted the fire, Ramakrishna came over and told me I needed to go. I just said okay, no problem. I had no attachment to being around. I completely understood.
In February of 1998, I went for India for a couple of weeks on a power journey with Gaya. I had never been to India, but I was so surprised that when I stepped off the plane it felt like I was home. We drove around in a bus and went to many sacred places, samadhis, and temples. We travelled to Sri Sailam on the bus. Sri Sailam is a tiger preserve and the road is closed at night. We were in the bus and Swami was in his personal vehicle. We stopped at a little roadside dhaba, where you can get tea and snacks. It was close to closing time. Right away, people got off the bus rushing in before it closed. Then Swami got out of the vehicle and was standing next to the car. I walked over just to say hello. Swami saw me coming and said something pleasant. I wouldn’t have continued my approach if he had acted disinterested. He asked me if was enjoying the drive. Then he said, “Oh you want to drive?”
Then he motioned to the car door inviting me to drive! Immediately my reaction was no way, I don’t want to drive. I had driven big equipment and motorcycles throughout my life and loved driving, but driving with the steering wheel on the right on Indian roads didn’t tempt me in the least. Any sane person who has driven on Indian roads would feel the same. Swami was laughing and got a kick from my reaction. His driver, Anthony, was there enjoying it too. After our funny interaction, Swami walked away. Then Anthony just looked at me and ordered me to get back on the bus. No one else was even on the bus. There I was sitting alone on the bus. That was my first interaction with Anthony, Swami’s most senior driver who had been with him the longest.
I would come to see that this was natural for Swami, he would often play and tease his students making them laugh and sharing joyful moments with him.
Soon after returning home from the power journey, I wanted to go back to India. In the spring of 1999, I was at a Toltec event with Ramakrishna and asked him about going back to India. He encouraged me to go. I told him I thought I needed permission. He said no problem, I can call Swami. Ramakrishna literally dialed up Swami in India and woke him up, and asked if I could go back to India. Swami said yes, he remembered me, and said I could come. Ramakrishna looked at me and asked when I could go. That was April, I said maybe by June. That is how I got permission to go back.
I went back to India to stay at the ashram that year. I quit my job and stored my stuff, and my feeling was that I had basically left America. Swami had told us that we can become like him, that we were all healers and that was possible for us to do what he did. He said the only difference between us and him was knowledge. He knew certain things that we didn’t yet know and experiencing first hand my own healing was such an enticement.
When I first arrived in India, there were only a few Westerners in the ashram, mostly Indian staff. I was clear that I wanted something and had a reason to be there so I really didn’t want to waste my time. One main thing was japa. By then, the mantras started to make sense since I had repeated them a lot while my leg was healing and I wasn’t working. I did a lot of japa before I ever got to India. I did the Brahma Kundalini Nadi mantras plus the Five Elements.
I didn’t expect Swami to teach me personally when I was there. I thought he would have students that I would learn from. I thought I didn’t need to take his time. He was busy, and has all these people coming. When I arrived he told me to do the Five Elements mantras. So for many months, I sat all day under the tree and did japa.
When we were in America, Swami spoke about the gorgeous ashram he had and about how many people came to visit -- thousands of Indians on New Moons and Full Moons. Then I got there and it was just a tiny little building surrounded by dirt and brambles! One thing I observed with Swami is that sometimes when he spoke he wasn’t referring to the current time, he was talking about the future. He was actually talking about what the ashram would become. And it did. In a really short time, only a few years. I was there in 1999 when he started building the first apartment building. But the visions he was speaking about he had seen at the very beginning. He knew where it was going. It showed me how Swami’s perspective on time was so much more than mine.
The hut was the first building of the ashram. It was round with a thatched roof and open to the air and it was where the Indian staff ate. An Indian couple cooked in a huge pot over an open fire. Right next to the hut was Swami’s swing, which hung on a huge tamarind tree. Next to that, was a huge statue of Hanuman.
My friends, Monika and Philip, and I, asked Swami’s permission to eat in the hut. We thought the food there was better than the food they were bringing from the dhaba in town. Often we would be in the hut eating and often Swami would come to the swing and sit down. Because Monika and Philip had been around Baba Muktananda, they understood, like I did, that we should not pull on Swami. So he would sit in his swing and if we ignored him and didn’t energetically pull on him, he would often invite us to sit with him, and would often share his food with us. If we didn’t have a full plate of food he would share some of his with us. The mechanism of that is: you get the masters’ attention by not chasing, demanding it or feeling entitled to it.
In 2000, Swami built the apartment building for Westerners and I moved out of the Mandir. At that time, when the construction hadn’t yet been done, in order to walk to the apartment building you had to walk by Swami’s swing to opening in the wall between him. To go from the apartment building to the Mandir or to the hut, you had to walk right by the swing. Often Swami would be in the swing. I would just try and go by without pulling on him. If he said hello it was fine, if he didn't it was fine. It was always nice if he said something, but it was fine if he didn’t. I would just go to the hut and eat.
When I walk would to the hut and Swami was in his swing meeting with someone, I would turn around and go back. Swami noticed that, and told me not to turn around, that I should go eat. But still, I recognized that it was rare for people to get private time with him and I wanted them to be able to speak freely with him and have privacy, not have someone listening in.
Each day I would take my plate and water bottle to eat in the hut. I had a favorite plate, that was a little different that most of the others; it was a little thicker and didn't have a rolled edge. One day I went to the hut with a different plate with a rolled edge. Swami noticed and commented on it. He actually noticed that I had changed plates! They looked very similar but for him to notice that subtle difference really surprised me. Then he asked me why I had a different plate that day. The reason was, there had been no water that morning and I had used the plate for breakfast and couldn't wash it. Unbeknownst to me, the plumbers were in the hut eating. As soon as I told him that, Swami asked the plumbers why the water wasn’t running. They immediately got up and left to fix it. All because Swami noticed I had a different plate. He noticed the smallest details, everything you did. How did he notice, why did he notice, I can't say. But he did.
Terry 'Sundaram' Clark
is an Associate Minister, Board Member, and Manager of Temple Buildings & Grounds Development at the Divine Lineage Center in Laytonville, CA since Sri Kaleshwar’s mahasamadhi in 2012. In addition, he is our machine whisperer and stealth wildlife photographer of our bear, fox and bobcat. He spent 12 years in Penukonda, India serving as Sri Kaleshwar’s primary personal attendant.