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
Master as Sculptor
Everybody knows the story about a sculptor who looks at a marble block and sees a beautiful statue inside the marble. We’re like those blocks that are really happy being a block. Swami sees us and instead says we can become this beautiful statue. We say we want to be that beautiful statue. But to go from a block to statue, those pieces have to be chipped off. When the master starts chipping, we start complaining. ‘Why are you hitting me?’ If you really want to become what he sees you could be, you have to give up those chipped pieces. Nobody wants to give them up. We are attached to those pieces; those pieces make us what we think we are. He is taking them because it is the only way you can reach your potential. We all fight the process to some degree. That is the nature of the ego, it attaches itself to what it identifies itself as.
But we really don’t want to stay a block. Will blaming the person who is helping you the most make your process succeed? Okay, he just took a big sledgehammer and hit me as hard as he could, it hurt so bad. But look at what happened, he just lightened my load. And why did he do that? What did he get out of it? It’s hard work for him! You can complain about the blow, you can complain about the piece that he whacked out of you. He’s doing you a favor. You have to appreciate it; you have to see it for what it really is. You have to keep your heart open and keep your faith.
You want to be that beautiful statue, but will you stand for the work it takes to get there? When the hammer hits the block, when your world shatters, you pick up the pieces and go on. You are going to make it.
The thing you can’t do is get upset with the master, especially if they are an Avadhut.
Chiseling the Blocks
In every healing tradition, there are steps a student has to go through for personal healing and taking responsibility for our internal world. These are human potential basics 101. Swami had much higher-level teachings to share. As he said, he came to teach Ph.D. level information, not the ABC’s. The people that came and didn't know how to handle their own blocks generally did not do as well around him. I felt so grateful for the time I had with Don Miguel from the Toltec tradition since I had done tons of personal cleaning out of old beliefs.
But when I went to Swami, it was a whole new level. I still got hooked by him and continued to have reactions that I needed to clean up and to let go of. But at least I had a framework to recognize what was happening, so I knew better than to blame him for my discomfort. Don Miguel's analogy was that human beings are covered in emotional scabs and wounds, which everyone thinks is normal. Often our friendships are based on who makes us feel good by not addressing our wounds. But your true friend is the one that points it out.
What Swami called blocks were manifestations of the ego, like anger, jealousy, pride, blame, selfishness, self-justification, unworthiness, feelings of being left out, feeling you are right, impatience, hatred, greed. One way he operated to remove his students’ block was to do something that affected multiple people at a time. He could hit so many targets with one arrow! I always thought it was a channel he had, I never saw anyone do one thing and hit so many targets at a time. He didn’t do that just once in a while, he was consistent about that. I don’t know if that is an Avadhut quality, or if it was just a Sri Kaleshwar quality! Swami was always operating on multiple levels at the same time. He would be working with an individual directly but would watch for other people's reactions to what he was doing. He was looking to see who had compassion, or who was happy someone was getting reprimanded. He could see who was celebrating another’s ‘misfortune’. He could see where people were in their consciousness by how they responded to him giving another person a hard time.
Another way used this tactic was if someone wasn’t strong enough to be worked on directly. If they couldn’t handle Swami’s energy being directed at them, he would give someone else a hard time about the same thing so that the person who needed it could hear it. He was pointing it out indirectly for them. Sometimes he would yell at me saying things that weren’t true. When that happened, I knew it was for another person there but still always had to look if there was something for me to see. We all have things that we hide from ourselves, he would give a big mirror to help you see them.
Mostly Swami would say things in an ambiguous way. If you had a block about what he was talking about, you could take it in a negative way, if you didn't have a block, you could take it in a positive way. Your reaction was a reflection of where you were not what he was saying. If he would say, the sky is red, one person would throw their book down and yell the sky was blue. The other person would say, yes, Swami, it's a beautiful red sky. He made a simple statement and your reaction to that statement reflected your internal world. He didn't have to do anything, you did it yourself. He didn't say the sky was red and anyone who sees it as blue is a terrible person. You had to see for yourself that your reaction was coming from you, generally he wouldn't point that out, you had to figure that out for yourself. Most people didn’t have any training in not being reactive, so their reactions were obvious in their faces.
Sometimes I would see him say something controversial in a group, and watch for reactions. He knew what he was saying was a hot button, and wasn’t true, but he was fishing for reactions. It brought those internal reactions up. When a person reacts, there is some attachment to a belief, and when you’re in a reaction you couldn’t even hear what he was saying. And you weren’t really reacting to what he was saying, you were reacting to the past, a trauma, or an attachment, an unexamined belief.
One time during a public talk, Swami singled me out. Afterward, a friend was commenting on how nice Swami had been. I insisted he was criticizing me. Luckily, I had recordings of that talk. When I listened to them, sure enough, she was right, that it was just in me, in my belief system, in my perspective. He wasn't criticizing me, but that had been my impression. Being able to hear the recording allowed me to see that what he said was touching a damaged part of me that created a huge reaction. I realized that I hadn't even heard what he said, I was reacting to something inside me. I was able to see that. He had treated me with kid gloves, super delicately, super carefully, and still, I had a huge reaction. He wasn't creating that; it was all inside of me. He showed me, it wasn’t his criticism but my self-critical nature.
Sometimes people would push back on Swami. They could have an intense reaction, and would actually go at him energetically pushing back. Usually, that wouldn't happen in public but would happen in private. If you wouldn’t look at yourself, you would project it onto him. It happens with healers all the time, when you help people, sometimes they blame you for what is going on with them. And, Swami was the biggest healer so received a lot of blame! Actually, he considered it a feather in his cap, that he was successful in his job.
He had many ways of working with students, of helping us uncover our blocks and unexamined belief systems. He certainly wasn’t doing it for his enjoyment. He did that to help us, to push us, to make us eligible to receive in the power channels. He was relentless in that work with us. There are multiple layers of the blocks and making your way through isn’t easy. If you don’t understand the basic mechanism of what was going on, it could be painful when you were around him if you were stuck in your block. If you were open and willing to do the work, he would help move you through things really fast, but you had to be honest with yourself and with him. Mostly, people tried to hide these things from him and from themselves.
The stakes were really high if he gave power to someone who was not purified, and they misused the energy. He was responsible for their karmas because he is the one who gave the knowledge to us. He promised the Divine Court that his students would be eligible. He took all that responsibility for us. He is still taking that responsibility. If he seemed hard on people at times, that was the reason. He had to be.
I wouldn't have been able to succeed without the tools I brought with me. I saw people just hunker down more, rather than look at themselves. That is not taking advantage of an Avadhut, and all that happens for that student is that it gets harder. Ideally, the way it should work is, he points it out, you work on that block, recognize it's in you, and move through with less and less internal reactions. Not because you are clinging or hiding it but because you no longer have a charge on it, and then finally it truly gone.
My own experience was after one block was done, he would start on the next one, and every once in a while, would come back and see if you had actually let go of it. If you had then you were actually progressing and learning, you were becoming freer and happier. The truth is that all these internal impurities destroy our happiness and peace and as we heal them, we come closer to who we really are.
Swami continued pointing out things in me that needed to be healed. His job was not to heal them but to point them out. My job was to recognize it, as soon I could recognize whatever it was, it automatically had less hold of me. That is healing. Later, as he became more avadhut, he didn't have much tolerance if you didn't take care of it. I had tools, and I had the awareness to look at those aspects in myself. It required continuous work. Some people could handle that kind of energy, and others couldn't. It was pretty consistent, the ones who could or couldn't.
As time went on, Swami saw that being subtle wasn't enough, the students weren’t getting it. They weren’t seeing their own stuff. I think partially he had to go so Avadhut because he wasn't being successful with all of the students. An Avadhut will go to any extreme to make you free. His students’ blocks forced him to go to that extent. At the end of his life, he sent very senior students away and didn’t invite them back for the rest of his life. My personal opinion was because it was that they weren't doing the work. They weren't looking at themselves and taking responsibility for what they were doing. The avadhut energy will amplify your blocks. If you resist the process and choose to stay a victim, eventually that energy will push you away. It's a protection.
It never stopped with those of us who were around him. He will work on us until the end of our lives.
Chiseling the Students
I would usually put some music on in Swami’s office when I was getting it set up for him to have people over. I would choose something quiet, just to have something playing when he came in. Then he could easily change it to something else if he wanted. He would usually never turn it off, he wanted music playing and wanted it ready. I had a good idea of the things he liked best and would choose. So, if he came in and chose certain songs, I knew it was for a reason, because he did not typically listen to those himself.
One technique he used to get a reaction was to play certain video songs when he had students in his office. One of his favorites for this purpose was Loka Loka Loka. It was racy by Indian standards. There was a scene of a woman dancing which he would play when certain people were around. He would put something on then look at me like watch this! Generally, you could easily see who would react. He would often get a rise out of the women with that one. There was another he would play of an Indian woman dancing in skin-tight shorts shimmying away. He had a few that were racy that he would play around certain people. He knew he would get a reaction.
Of course, Swami would act completely innocently, saying we are having a party. For years, he teased Monika with off-color statements to see what reactions he could get from her. One night, the siren in the movie slinked about in a silky red dress. As we were watching it, Swami told Monika he was going to have a red dress made for her like the woman in the movie! Then he was going to put a picture of her on his website! After being mortified, wondering whether Swami was serious, she laughed and realized Swami had hooked her! But she got it quickly. “Thanks, Swami. When can I go to the tailor in Bangalore?” Swami liked that. There was a purpose Swami was doing that with her. It led to being able to speak to a person about very intimate aspects of their lives in a matter of fact way. Swami said a healer has to be able to talk about subjects that are taboo just like having a cup of tea.
People had a lot of ideas about how Swami should act. Watching racy Indian movie scenes was not on that list. When the people came in and a song like Loka Loka Loka was on, they had no way to know that was not what Swami normally listened to, that he had a special reason for having it on when they were there. But I knew.
Another way that Swami would work with people’s blocks was by teasing and joking around. Swami loved to play; he would tease people as a way to show affection. He would say something you didn’t expect, and then he would watch your reaction to see where you were at. He could do it with one line! It made you feel close to him if he was playing with you or teasing you if you could stay out of being too reactive to what he said. He would say, I only tease people if I love them. But sometimes he would hit a nerve, or it would be something you wanted to hide, everything was fair game. Ego death is not an easy thing. It is a slow cutting, but he loved it. And seemed to really enjoy it. If you could get over yourself enough to enjoy it too, the process was much less painful!
There were times that Swami would focus on someone, then look at me as if to say do you see what I am doing? He never said anything, never explained. It was a continuation of him not explaining, but demonstrating. He clearly wanted me to see and try to understand how he was working with people.
Another method he used was to talk to someone about what they thought they were experts in. He would say something that was on the edge of their knowledge. They wouldn't believe it, but Swami would be right. But the other side was, he would know all these obscure things. I always thought he must have one of his angels telling him things! Whatever you thought you knew best, that is where he would challenge you. The stronger your reaction the more it would encourage him. He wouldn't pick a neutral subject where you didn’t have an opinion or a vested interest. He would deliberately pick a subject where you had a strong opinion.
The stronger your opinion, the more you would resist. What I noticed; the most important thing was not to resist. The more you fought back, the more he would push. He was constantly checking to see our reactivity, our inability to have command of our internal world.
If he found one spot where he would get a rise, that was the spot he went for and found all the different angles to get there. After a while you learned-don’t fight this, just accept and you will figure it out. If you had any resistance, it only intensified.
Another method he used was to say unfavorable things about people, especially me, in public. He watched your reaction. I would try not to react especially in public. If he got a reaction from you, it just encouraged him to dig more. Of course, there was nothing you could do. Swami was always hitting multiple targets with one arrow. He was speaking badly about me to see if he could get a reaction, to see who was celebrating my disgrace, but also, to protect me from another student’s jealousy. It was his way of cutting their jealousy.
Sometimes he would tell the same story numerous times. If he didn't get a rise out of you, he would embellish it more each time. Supposedly one-time Monika went home and turned his picture around because she was angry with him. Swami must have told that story fifty times, and each time he embellished it and got more and more elaborate. It was a way to tell students that no matter how upset you get with the master, but you can’t escape that relationship.
Swami loved to make people get on the scale, he did it regularly. He would have me step on the scale to wake it up. He would have everyone in the room get on the scale. They would say the number and Swami would say whether they had to lose weight or gain weight. Mostly for Western women, it was traumatic. But maybe for the men too. There was a time when Tobias and Ramakrishna were there and I weighed more than each of them, and they are both much taller than me. It was earlier when I still was carrying more muscle! One time I got on and Swami told me that I had to lose weight. The next time, he told me I had to gain weight. Basically, I weighed the same both times. Either way, I thought, ‘I eat once a day, I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off, my weight will be what it is.’ One time he had the group in front of the mandir on the slates and had everybody get on then announced everyone’s number!
With women, in terms of handling the energy because of their Womb Chakra, they can gain meditation power faster than men. But for women, it is more of a challenge to hold the energy. One way you can hold more energy is if you are heavier. He wanted women to be what we would consider heavier by American standards. He told several female students they had to gain weight. Some of the women really tried but had a hard time gaining weight. Another student was overweight and was terrified of the scale. She had always been browbeaten about her weight as a child and was quite insecure about it. A whole range of emotions got stirred up in everyone who was there. That was the point.
It was interesting to see the other side of that. There was a policeman who came to the ashram quite a few times. He came with his wife who was on the big side. They were with Swami and he had them both get on the scale. His wife just hopped on the scale. She had no anxiety at all about her weight. If she had been a westerner, she would have been anxious. It was really interesting for me to see that she had no concerns about the number. With Western women, you could tell they were afraid of the number on the scale, whether it was too much or too little. Swami made a big deal about her. In the Indian culture having a little more weight was not a big deal. They don't have a fixation with being thin like in the West. Telugu actresses at that time tended to be a little heavier. The movie ideal was still more rounded. Swami was a proponent of that, he said many times he couldn't see how the West was fixated on stick women.
Faith Is Necessary
Swami did try to explain the reason why avadhut saints behaved the way they did. Baba would get really angry and scream at people, demanding money. They behave like that for a reason. Swami would ask, is Baba just crazy, or is there something else happening there? He was explaining what souls like Shirdi Baba and Bhagawan Nityananda were really doing even though it looked terrible.
Same with Dattatreya, he's the purest being there is but his behavior appeared to be terrible. A cripple came to him for healing, and Datta just kicked him! It looked really bad, but it healed him. Their actions are completely in their own realm. You can try to understand but you have to be in their state of consciousness or just have faith in their Divinity. It's a real testing for people around these beings to see who really has that faith. Swami tested that, Baba did too.
People didn’t think he could see through what they were doing. He found a way to balance the karmas and give the right judgment. Some people didn’t ever seem to understand. Swami even acted this way with big donors who never came back. They expected certain treatment from him, instead, he treated them as students but they couldn’t see what he was doing. I learned you couldn’t say anything to people when it happened to them. Even if I wanted to, I could not interfere or help them understand, there was so much backlash. It was their test and their process with Swami, I could not interfere, but I saw it happen over and over.
Swami worked really intensively with certain people. He was very involved in every aspect of our personal lives. It was so intimate and personal, the way that Swami worked with some of us that were close to him. He knew exactly what was inside you, where the problem was, and knew how to get to it. He didn’t work like that with very many people. You had to be so intimately close to people to do that, you had to know them. With us, he was intense, in a truly avadhut way, he was chiseling us. It is hard to appreciate it when it is happening, the ego is always trying to protect itself, that is the resistance and reactivity we display. But now I see and really appreciate the radical purification he did for us. It's not that there isn't fine-tuning, but I now realize when working with people, they don't even know how much they have to purify. Now at the other end of the purification, I am so grateful. There is no way to get free of that without the master's help. These are all the things you hide from yourself, let alone having the person you care about most see them.
I see now how patient, compassionate, and committed Swami was in growing and training us. It took tremendous energy and time on his part. He pushed you, backed off, then waited for you to realize, then pushed you on that same thing to see if it was still there. He will keep doing it until there were no longer internal reactions. You were a clean slate, free from conditioning. For me it took years, he would push me and I would have a huge reaction, a year later he would do it again, then he would wait for six months and do it again to see my reaction to see if I was free. Then he would go onto the next one. It took so much love for him to do that with the people he loved on his part. But at each one of those steps, you could blame him.
People come to an ashram bringing all of their politics and having the same attitude with spirituality. Many people came with the attitude of you owe me. Swami gave a lot of experiences to people; one could argue they weren’t worthy of them. But that is what he was here to do, to give it out in the broadest way. In the past, you had to be eligible to receive what he gave. That is what he begged the Council for, he said all the good people were getting destroyed by bad people. All these tools were given out but, the majority were not eligible in the traditional sense. They were not purified, and that is why some funny stuff is going on. Jealousy is a big problem in the spiritual world. Adi Shankaracharya was poisoned by someone who was jealous. They tried to kill Baba too, and look at Jesus. Swami had his own situation. The reality is the current world really has a hard time not being jealous of such great people.
But we are on the brink of a new day. That is why he gave everything he could, even if we weren't fully eligible. The people who will use what he gave for good will outweigh the ones who are not eligible. He came into the middle of the darkest time and took on many terrible karmas of people. Like he said, he was a garbage man to take out these karmas. He really came to do a dirty job.
Swami didn't waste his time. He wouldn't have spent time with anyone if he didn’t think they were worth it. We have to believe in what he saw in us. You can't see it in yourself, but at least trust that he knew what he was doing.
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.