Terry was Sri Kaleshwar’s personal attendant, a soul mate, and ‘godfather’, 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
One of my jobs early on was asking Swami the questions that students submitted. There was a constant stream of them that came in. Asking the students’ questions was training for my own clarity. Especially in the beginning, he expected me to read the correspondence and then highlight what I thought was most important and then ask him. Then I would give the student his reply. Sometimes we would read stuff and we would have it highlighted or underlined. Sometimes he would ask for a letter and I would just give it to him.
It took a lot of preparation and you had to have clarity with every question you wanted to ask him, and you had to be able to write the answers down as he was telling you or as soon as he was done. If it was more than two or three questions I would have to write them as he was talking to me. I can’t write that fast, I would try to write down the gist of what he was saying and then put the rest in afterward. When he left I would write out what he said as close to word to word what I could remember. For a while, my seva partner, Thomas, and I used tape recorders and then didn’t have to write it down, we could ask questions as fast as we could read them.
One place I would stand to catch Swami was at the top of the staircase when he was going to go downstairs. Usually, I would be there and I would have a black notebook so I could write in it. When Swami was there I would ask him if it was a good time to answer questions. If he said no that was it. Sometimes he would say later, sometimes he wouldn’t say anything he would just walk by! He doesn’t have to say anything, he clearly heard me and if he didn’t respond then it wasn’t the right time. Sometimes he would say, I need to go. Sometimes he was quite deep in his thoughts and even asking something was an annoyance. Mostly, he knew if I was there and if I had something in my hand I was going to ask him something. Even if he just walked by me it was fine, it wasn’t the right time and that's the way it goes. So I had to learn how to be confident enough to ask Swami for his time but to accept if he wasn’t interested. And knowing that line between not getting any answers and annoying him. Rarely, he would stop and answer every single question I had.
Eventually, he stopped letting me ask him any student questions. My feeling was I was too good at it and he would feel a little pinched or pursued by me. He just told me no more questions for you. I was so happy to not have to do that since I always felt like I was bothering him. He made them all go to the office.
Swami would ‘pinch’ me if I asked him a question unless I had clarity. It forced me to tell students, you need clarity before you come to him. If it was someone new, I would say, ask your most important question first. What you interrupt his life for has to be worthwhile. Your first question has to interest him. The other thing I would tell people is to have your questions written down. Before you see Swami have them written down short and to the point. When you see him most likely you will forget everything. If he wanted to he could just make your mind go blank. You would have a really good time, you would really enjoy it, but he wouldn’t have answered a single thing you would have asked. Often what would happen is they would try to give me the list to ask him after, and I would say no, you had your chance.
I tried to help people to understand how to ask questions of Swami and to get good answers. You could get an answer from Swami but if you didn’t have real clarity it would not be a clear answer.
Swami had told me earlier that you can ask in one or two lines and that's it. That's plenty if you have clarity and ask the right question. If you are not clear, he will just reflect that to you and you will come away with ten more questions. Some people didn't have any trouble, but many people had problems. They would give me a letter to Swami with one question that was pages long, I would give it back to them. I would not tell them directly, you don't have clarity, but I would say, Swami doesn't speak English as his first language, you need to simplify this. I would get it back and it would be down to half a page, then I would hand it back and say try again until they got it down to one line!
Most people didn’t know how to ask Swami questions in a way that they got helpful answers. He really felt you should be able to distill any question down to one sentence. Some people gave questions like a flow chart. If they wrote it like that and expected to pin him down to a yes or no answer, he would jump out of that and give an answer that was useless. They missed the mark right off the bat and he would go in a completely unexpected direction.
People would want to impress Swami with their questions. The way to impress him is to ask him a short and concise question. You show him you understand by asking the right question. The way you word it, if it is really succinct and to the point, he will immediately know where you are. Your question is a direct reflection of your consciousness. So the people who would write a five-page introduction, he didn't have the tolerance for. I was appalled by some people's questions. They would kill his inspiration.
The other side of asking Swami a question about something personal, if he did give you advice then you actually need to do what he says. I would much rather figure it out myself. Or really only go to him about the big things when you have tried and were really stuck. Students would come to Swami and ask him if they should do A or B. Typically, he would give Z. I would say, you asked the Avadhut, now you need to do Z. People didn’t like that! I had seen that enough that I had the attitude of, you better be careful what you ask. If you ask a question expecting a certain answer, it was pretty much a guarantee that you would not get what you wanted.
As Westerners we are polite, we start with chit chat or small things, and save our big questions for last. Indians are different, with him, you had to hook him with a good question right off the bat. So it was better to do that than to chitchat or be polite, or ask simpler things first and work up to the most important things. Swami worked backward from that, you had to hook him, engage, and interest him, after you did that, you could ask him anything.
Swami would interact with different people differently, with some people he had more willingness to answer basic questions. If you were around longer and your soul capacity was higher, he would hold you to a higher standard. He would always answer process questions. Personal questions not so much. With some group process questions, he would answer, but then they would ask more to try to get him to go in a certain direction or to adjust a diksha. In my experience, he would often accommodate them but still the first answer he gave was the best.
Mostly I didn’t ask Swami personal questions. It stemmed from witnessing him do Kandhana Yoga. If he is who I believe he is, I don’t need to ask him a lot. Some things will just be evident. Like I said about Mother Divine, She knows you better than you know yourself. What makes you think you need to tell Her what you need. Certain things I would love to know, but is it necessary to bother him to get that? I guess from my time there serving him I wasn’t willing to bother him. For the most part with me, he would not answer my questions anyway. Most of the time if I asked him something personal, he told me that I would figure it out. It meant that he had faith in me, that I was capable of figuring it out. Sometimes I wondered, he answered everyone else’s questions, why didn’t he answer mine? Swami didn’t explain things to me, I had to figure them out. Everything I did with Swami was experiential, and if I didn’t figure it out, he would pepper me up. That was all motivation to get better. For me I got the experiences and now I have to figure out what I got.
Right from the beginning, even before I started asking Swami the student questions, I just felt that I did not want to pull on his time and attention. What I would do if I had a question is I would hold it, and see if it was a valid question, had I really thought about it, and could I do my best to figure it out. Often, Swami would answer my questions in public without me ever having asked him! That started early and continued all along in my time with him. For me, it was showing that he knew where I was and that I didn't have to verbally ask him every single thing. You can receive answers non-verbally, intuitively. That only works if you have silence to get a good question or to receive the answer.
That was a part that was hard for me about seeing other students' questions, from how long they were it was clear that they hadn't really taken time to formulate their questions or to reflect on it, or to even try to figure it out for themselves.
The right question at the right time, from a student with an open heart, can pull so much energy through. But all of those ingredients have to be there. The wrong question, or the right question but at the wrong time, or a question asked with expectations is the best way to kill an Avadhut’s inspiration. The student has to have clarity about the question, but also attunement to the energy to know when is the right time to ask it. The student also has to have an open heart and just an openness in general to what they receive. If they have an agenda, they are going to be disappointed with what they receive in the Avadhut energy.
Terry 'Sundaram' Clark
began his studies with Sri Kaleshwar in 1997. He lived at the ashram in Penukonda India, from 1999 until Swami’s samadhi in 2012. For 11 of those years, he served as Swami’s personal assistant, serving and taking care of Swami not only in Penukonda but during Swami's travels around the world. Early in Terry's time at the ashram, Sri Kaleshwar made him promise that he would take care of him as long as he was alive. Swami would affectionately call Terry “Godfather”, and one birthday manifested a diamond ring for him saying, “You are a diamond in my life.” Terry lives at the Divine Mother Center, serves on the Board of Directors, and is Manager of Temple Buildings and Grounds Development.