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
There’s a big trick about God. That’s my personal experience. Suppose I go for this flower, then this flower goes a little far away, ‘Okay, who cares. I don’t want it.’ If I say, ‘No problem,’ then the flower comes in front of me at the time, even if I have no feelings that I want the flower. If it comes, ‘Okay done,’ it’s there.’ It’s God’s testing, God’s illusion. - Shaktipat, Enlightenment, Moksha transcript SK 1-16-99
When I first went to the ashram, Swami spent a lot of personal time with me. I never expected that, but it happened. When I went back for Gurupurnima 1999 he told me the program was coming, and he was going to be busy, and he might not talk to me for a while. It was a year before he talked to me again in private. Sometimes he would say something in a program but nothing to me personally for that entire year. It was a little pinching but it wasn’t too bad since I had never held an expectation that I had to interact with him.
Around that time, Swami had bought a farm. Very shortly after I moved to the ashram to live, he announced to everybody, “Tomorrow Terry’s going to go to the farm with me.” Some people were like-oh you get to go to the farm, we never get to go. They made it seem like a big deal. The next morning I went to the Mandir and waited. Pretty soon it was lunchtime, pretty soon it was evening and not a peep. I just stayed there sitting on the Mandir steps. Finally, one of the Indian staff came and said you are not going to go today. I thought, well, it would have been nice if somebody would have told me instead of me sitting outside the Mandir all day. But I did not get upset about it. Swami liked to test people’s patience, and also see how they would handle it if they didn’t get something they had been told they would get.
Early on when Swami started charging rent on the rooms, he charged me double! I asked Cindy who was in charge of collecting rent why am I paying double? She said because Swami said I had to. I didn’t complain or say anything about it. He charged me double for more than a year. After a year or so she asked Swami again, “Can his rent go back down?” His response was, “Did he ask for that?”
Fortunately, I had not. My feeling was if I had said anything, it would have gone to four times as much! Soon after she asked him, it went down. It's one of those things if you have a feeling that you are owed something, or something is unfair that the master is doing, you are damaging your relationship with your master. I am convinced if I would have asked for a reduction it would have gone up. You have to be careful how you approach an Avadhut. He has a reason which you don’t know. I was happy to pay. He asked for it, so I paid what he asked without complaining.
Early on Swami gave me another test, which was quite unusual. He told me he wanted to check something. He asked me if I knew the Gayatri mantra, I said yes. He said, “I want you to meditate for one hour on the Gayatri exactly.” He said I had to go someplace where nobody was around, where I could be by myself and no one could disturb me. I didn’t know where to go but he said to start right away and meditate for one hour exactly. So I had to look around to find a place immediately.
I found a place in a little stairwell closet. I put a cushion down, went in there, closed the door, and started meditating. In 45 minutes or so I heard some commotion, it was somebody looking for me! Swami had told me to meditate for exactly one hour and not get disturbed, he had said it a couple of times, he made the diksha quite clear to me. Even though they were looking for me I knew I had to do what he said. Eventually, I heard his voice calling me too, not too close but I could hear him. First Michelle, then Cindy, then Swami were calling for me. I was not going to come out before one hour! After the hour was up, I came out and everyone was asking me where I was and were all upset. Swami was getting ready to go and was looking for you!
Those were the kinds of things he did before I went on duty, checking to see how I would handle his instructions. He was testing to see what I would do. You could say the right thing but what did you actually do in the face of a real test?
Sometime after Christmas 1999, Swami gave all of the students an actual test. It was on most of the knowledge that became the Sai Shakti Healing book. He always took an opportunity to strike as many targets as possible whenever possible. In this instance, he said the people who didn’t pass would have to go home! I didn't really know if he would do that, but he sure made a big deal about it. The master always has to push you harder than you would push yourself. He was very strict with knowledge. He demanded that people study and contemplate it, and most of all maintain its integrity, not pollute it with their own ideas. The guru can give many things, he can teach only knowledge but he cannot transfer it. It has to come through your own hard work, study and dedication. Most of all, he wanted people to be empowered, knowledge is the ultimate empowerment, it cannot be taken away from you. Knowledge is liberation. Also without people understanding the knowledge, he couldn’t take us deeper into it. People definitely took it more seriously after that. I got the message.
At the time I had recordings of all his talks, so before that first test I was actually going through my notes and listening to the mini disc recordings; I really studied a lot. I had time to study and spent a lot of time preparing for it. In school, I was never that interested so mostly I didn't do that well. But like I said, I really was serious as a student when I went to the ashram. If he was teaching a specific healing technique I would write which disk it was on and the minutes where he was talking about it, so I could review and listen to his actual words on the different techniques. For me, it was quite a big deal, because it was over a week of him talking sometimes three times per day. It really was a lot of information to learn, a lot of techniques and a lot of mantras to go through.
After midnight, some days later he called everyone to the Mandir and gave out the tests. That test was more or less all essay questions. I finished at sunrise. It was pages and pages, a huge amount of techniques, mantras, everything. I read over most of it before I started answering anything and realized that I would do fine, although a lot of it I really still did understand. I knew that I wouldn't remember the mantras very well, but the general concepts and specifics of the techniques I felt like I understood. I don't remember what score I got exactly but I was happy with how I did. Ramakrishna told me that he graded those tests, and told me that there were just a couple of questions where he felt that I didn't quite get. I couldn't have cared less that I didn't get a perfect score! My spelling and grammar were not very good so it could have been the way I wrote it, or I might have gotten them wrong. But who cares, I passed!
Later Swami gave another test. By the time he gave this one, I was already working in the office. I didn't have as much time to study, although I did study some. He did all the same things-telling us that if you don't pass you had to go home! There was definitely a general fear and anxiety about the test. I knew I wouldn't do as well; I just didn't have the time to study.
It took about nine hours for people to complete that exam. That’s how serious Swami was. And it was Swami who graded those tests by putting his hands on the test and giving a score. That really created a lot of inner reactions in people, but not for me. My score was two points above failure, over the cut off point for getting sent home! Later Swami made a big deal about how I barely made it. I just looked at him and said, “I made it, that's all that counts!”
For me, it didn’t bother me that I didn't get a perfect score. I was happy to have passed! If I had an idea that it had to be perfect, it could have really gotten to me, but it didn’t. I passed. And for how little I got to study, I was happy with that. But definitely it hooked a lot of people, especially those who received a high score and those who didn’t. A lot of ego washing there.
Swami was serious about the tests because he was serious about knowledge. He wanted to see what people actually understood what he was teaching. Swami’s teaching style was unique, he would discuss the highest spiritual subjects but not in a linear way; they weren’t subjects that could be taught that way. It required serious study and reflection. It became apparent to him who really did that work with the dedication required.
The Two Way Street Between Master and Student
Students want things from the Master. They want enlightenment, they want healing abilities, and in Swami’s case, they wanted experiences. Swami was unique in the history of spiritual masters. There is no master that has given students the kind of miracle experiences that he has. His students experienced many miracles, for example, having darshan of Mother Divine and darshan of Jesus. He said it was important for everyone to experience what they couldn’t believe with their own eyes.
Instead of being satisfied and grateful for these experiences, there are those who would expect more. ‘I had that experience yesterday, but what are you going to do for me today?’ It was purely entitlement and lack of gratitude. That really killed Swami’s inspiration.
Before he can give, the Master has to feel that you can handle what he is giving and that you are qualified to receive it. Entitlement and ingratitude will never win the master’s heart, nor does it make you eligible. A student has to have confidence in the master, but the master has to have confidence in them. If he didn’t have confidence in you he couldn’t give. It’s not one way; it’s a two-way street.
For example, if he gives you something to do and you don’t do it, that destroys his confidence in you. He will wait, then give you something else to do and then watch and see if you actually do it. You have to show that you are open-hearted and willing to receive whatever he gives or doesn’t give. If that attitude isn’t there, he will make you wait until it is.
I watched some students come to him with a demanding energy. As soon as you demand anything from an avadhut, you are done, forget it. If you go off on a hard angle and think that you can browbeat him to get what you want out of him, you will never win. People would really do that with Swami, and it never worked. But you could always win if you had an open heart and were humble. Even if you made a mistake, you could win him again with an open-hearted and humble attitude.
The truth is with the right student, automatically the master will give. When a student is open-hearted and comes to you, they can't help but give. When the right person comes, whether the master wants to or not, the energy causes him to give.
The other side is if you do something inappropriate you go to the waiting list until you have more awareness of yourself. What I saw many times in Penukonda was people could have his trust, but then would lose it. You can ask an inappropriate question, you could act funny when the energy goes high, or you didn’t have control over your emotional reactions. He would just put them on the waiting list. Most of the time, I don't think they even had an awareness of what they had done.
Some would blame Swami saying he had promised this or that and it wasn’t happening. They didn't take any responsibility. They never thought it could have anything to do with their own actions or expectations. They didn't take responsibility for themselves, they just expected him to give. That was a big thing that would run around him.
He wanted students to be inspired about what was possible to achieve but to get there it would take dedication and real effort. Sometimes people didn't see that; they didn’t see what was required from their side. If you are dedicated and don't make any big mistakes, you could achieve it. It doesn't mean it will happen tomorrow or next week. He said he was a shortcut master, but some people expected they would get it in six months without any effort, that Swami would just give it to them. It took Baba 18 years to realize what the brick was, and you believe you will get it all in one year ? It's like, you need some perspective.
I saw that those who were successful with Swami could sense where he was at. They were sensitive to his energy. The student has to be sensitive to the master. He is always sensitive to you whether it appears that way or not. As a master he is responsible for their karmas, if he gives you something then he pays a price for that. If you approach him the right way, if you are open-hearted, if you are flexible, if you are not having big expectations, if you have faith that he will give when it's the right time, and you are not worried about it, you have the right attitude to receive everything he has to give.
The other part is he can give but you won’t hold onto it, he has to give it, and then the student has to hold onto it. Swami talked about how with women, it's really easy for them to win, but it's harder for them to hold onto it. With men, it's harder to win but generally, if they get it it's easier to hold onto. I would see that kind of thing with him, you had to first win him and then you had to hold onto it, keep your focus, keep your heart open, be ready whenever he calls.
At the end of his life, an unfortunate incident happened with some Japanese students that illustrates this very well. Swami actually kicked all the Japanese out of the ashram in the middle of the night! One person in the group had been told he would get something special. Swami didn't give that but gave so much more. The person complained to the group leader about it and the group leader brought it to Swami.
Swami was unbelievably upset. I tried my best to minimize it but it just kept escalating. They wanted to see Swami, they wanted to talk to him and negotiate. He wouldn't even see them, he just said-we are done, they have to go. Swami had them pack up and leave the ashram in the early morning hours! The fact that the senior students who were group leaders did not recognize what they had received caused Swami to react this way. Something you never want to have happen.
With the Master, your attitude is the number one thing, if you have the right attitude then the energy will flow. Always that was number one, he would reflect it back every time if you had aggressive energy, expectations, or irritation. With an avadhut, you can push but you better be careful about what you are asking and how you ask it.
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.