Sundaram was Sri Kaleshwar’s personal attendant, a soul mate, and ‘godfather’, as Sri Kaleshwar would affectionally call him. His stories of life with Sri Kaleshwar in Penukonda, India, offer encouragement, wisdom, and company on the path to awakening. They are priceless gifts for all students of spirituality.
At the Feet of an Avadhut:
Life Lessons Learned Serving Sri Kaleshwar
By Terry 'Sundaram' Clark
Unless I know the deep layers, the content of myself, how they are working, what they are doing, I have no basis for clear thought or clear looking.
Negativity affects us through the lens of our existing negativity, it always will. A negative spirit can’t touch you if you don't open your heart to the negativity. If you are not attached to any negativity inside of you, you are safe from all negativity. As Baba said, why should you fear any person if you have no evil inside of you? It’s a teaching of how negativity flows. Nothing in the creation is 100% pure, but with all the purification, dikshas and boundaries we learn how to say no and identify our own negativity. Where does it come from, where does it look like, this is a very deep level of healing, this is about becoming a soul healer
-Nityanandaji, opening talk of Tantra Classroom Satsang, January 10, 2021
The ABC's of Blocks
Shalini: You said Swami would say “you are a failure” (while he had you on duty close to him, clearly not sending you away) and each time he did this, your reaction would be less. When talking about blocks, you said, “If you’re not willing to look at them yourself or take care of them, you could spend the rest of your life blaming people outside.” How did you take care of them? Was this part of your daily review?
Sundaram: What can happen is what someone is saying and what you perceive are two completely different things. Often, you're just reacting from past traumatic events in your life. So you're not even operating from what's actually happening, you're reacting to what those words mean to you from a past event. To clean it up you have to go back to those traumatic events and kind of review what happened, to let go of that, to forgive yourself and let go of those associations to be able to live more in the moment and not be always reacting. That's quite a process in itself. Swami said to do it every night before we went to bed. Some teachers call it recapitulation, or witnessing. You go back through your day, and review incidents to see if you could have changed something about what you experienced. Basically, that was it, every day before you go to bed review to see what you could have done better. I had actually learned that technique from Don Miguel, my Toltec teacher, before I came to Swami, so I had done a lot of "cleaning up" of things from my past. I used this practice when things came up for me at the ashram. That prior training was invaluable. Swami expected us to handle our minds and take responsibility for our internal world. This was the beginning level of spirituality. He just expected us to take care of it.
I learned two main things from this practice. First, everyone is responsible for their own happiness. Second, never take things personally. Both practices served me well during my time with Swami. An example, if Swami said hello when you walked by, that was nice, if he didn’t, that was fine, too. I didn't have any expectations about him interacting with me, and I didn’t take it personally if he didn’t. I think Swami was really happy with that. The other side of that, if Swami was busy or having a hard day and would nip at you a little, I didn't take that personally either. I didn’t ‘suck’ that. I didn’t take that in. However, a lot of people did. That was one big learning, whatever Swami was saying, to not go up and down with it. Trust in your own experience.
It seems that a lot of students didn’t have prior spiritual training to deal with their mind and internal reactions. In Penukonda, I noticed that students who had been involved with another extremely popular form of meditation, could meditate but didn't seem to have tools to deal with their minds. They could get energy but were unbalanced emotionally, and hadn’t developed self-reflection. I also noticed that in another spiritual community and guru I had been involved with earlier in my life. They didn't have tools to deal with their minds. They did seva, and had satsang and meditation. But five minutes after meditation, it was as if they had never meditated because their mind was just waiting. That was my experience with a lot of students.
Swami was working on people’s fears and insecurities, bringing them up so he could purify them, and was really good at it. But people could easily spin out in their minds seeing it in a negative way. Swami’s teaching to handle those thoughts was to just throw them out. That sounds great, but it takes a person who has known how to control their mind to do that.
The thing was, Swami was not teaching the ABC’s, he was teaching the Ph.D. level. His dharma was to give out the knowledge. He knew his lifespan was short; he couldn’t focus on beginning level spiritual things. Historically, to be eligible for these advanced practices you had to have been purified and able to handle your mind and reactivity. For sure, when you're around an avadhut, you will just turn to ash if you don't figure it out; if you can't dissociate yourself from your mind it is just going to eat you up.
Sivapriya: And the Toltec work that you did had taught you how to recognize what was even happening, that you were in a reaction to the past, and then you could say, ‘Oh, that's touching a nerve of some old energy that's not healed.’
Sundaram: Yes. If you practice it, it's not so hard. But when you first start, it's pretty overwhelming, because you have so many reaction points. Most human beings are covered with emotional wounds, as if we had sores all over our body. We are comfortable with other people that have had the same wounding so they become our friends, and we have these silent agreements not to touch those wounds. So we come to think that's normal, to be covered in these wounds and to work around them. This approach was to pay attention to what would trigger us during the day and then to address that through recapitulation. It takes quite a bit of dedicated effort for years, because many of them are really deep and old. So it just takes practicing and commitment. I feel this is what Swami was asking us to do when he asked us to handle our blocks, and with all of the ways that he teased and tested me he was pointing out those unhealed wounds.
Sivapriya: He didn't talk about what to do with your realizations that there was unresolved energy, but he spent plenty of time showing you mirrors of where that energy was. He was truly the Master of doing that! From other stories you have shared, he put elaborate effort into creating situations designed to bring up blocks in the students. And then, like you said, he expected you to take care of it. He didn't really want any part in taking care of it. Maybe some part he was testing to see, ‘Are you going to blame me for being the one to show you that painful energy?’ There was always the opportunity to blame him because he pointed it out or stirred it up. So the first step was not blaming him. And then the second step is recognizing, hey, he just touched something old. And then the third step is actually having some internal process of reckoning and healing that old energy. This sounds like another one of those things that we can only do for ourselves, no one can take those steps for us.
Sundaram: Sometimes you can trace it back, sometimes you can't, but even just recognizing and seeing - I'm reacting in a disproportionate way to what was said. What's behind that? Why do I have such a strong reaction to such an innocent thing and then having the discipline to go back and see what that is touching in me that I still have a huge amount of unsettled energy around it.
Sivapriya: And, there's no magic bullet. There's just as it comes out, you just keep showing up and dealing with it. It's just a process like you said, you felt like it was like years. Did you ever feel like you've reached a point where you crossed a threshold where you don't have to put quite so much energy into that?
Sundaram: Yes, it is self-generating. So when you start doing more of it actually gets easier. And it goes quicker. So it's kind of once you practice you can do it faster. You get to a point where the big ones are cleaned up, and then it is more maintenance.
Sivapriya: That makes sense, that there would be something ongoing. We're still in the negativity and it's in us! Of course, it's going to get snagged in us. It seems like as long as we're in bodies there's going to need to be a humility to that. And then you saw Swami had to deal with it too, he had the human reactions that he had to handle?
Sundaram: Yes. Generally they weren't huge but he still had those disappointments that he had to handle.
Sivapriya: So to be in Swami’s Ph.D. program, it's our responsibility to go back and take any “remedial” coursework we need to keep up!
Sundaram: To have a real true spiritual life you need to go through the steps. How do you want to do that or which tools really work for you, that can be individual, depending on what you're attracted too. What type of work do you want to do? For me, I wouldn't say it was hard. But it takes awareness and consistency. Once I started to practice it, I felt a huge shift in my own energy, that was really inspiring. It really made a huge difference in the way I feel and my outlook towards the world and not being a victim. If you have done it, then you know-you just feel better!
But another angle is that when I started practicing like this, the people that were around that were my friends changed dramatically. Some of the people I was closest to did not like me changing. As you do this, you also start to know who around you are helping bring out the best in you or who around you are tearing you down, expecting you to stay in your wounds so they can stay in theirs. You will naturally evolve the relationships that are helping, and some of the other ones, they will fall away. Once I started, I was really shocked how energetically I changed.
Sivapriya: So you got some negative reactions from the people around you, but that was actually a sign that you were healing! And by the time you got to Swami, you had a good start. Then you got the biggest mirror of all into all the parts of yourself you didn’t want to see! But you have said that you never felt judged by him, even when he was saying things that seem so unkind, like calling you a failure.
Sundaram: You know, that was something I've tried to say about Swami. That's one part that makes it easier to be around him. He's pointing it out but not judging you for it. He's showing it, not judging it. We could judge ourselves, but he didn't judge us. If what he showed caused you to go funny or off, which it often did, he'll put you a little distance away. He was giving you time to figure it out and then you if you did, then he would bring you back closer. And having some distance could be a really good thing, because Swami could be like gasoline to those wounds. If you had a little rage or whatever, any emotion he just amplified it. So if you're in your blocks it's better to just step back a little bit so he doesn't amplify it.
Whatever comes up, it's not pleasant to see in yourself. Mostly it's everything you want to hide. Oh, I'm not like that! Your ego believes you're either the worst person in the world or you're the best and there's no in between. We are mostly in the middle somewhere, doing some really good things and some things that aren't quite so good. Whether it's intentional or not, we all do things that affect other people.
Some of the times when we do things that other people have a negative reaction to, it’s because of their own wounds. They misinterpret what we say because of them, just like we could do with Swami. The main practice was to not take things personally. If you have good intentions, and you say something to someone and they react defensively or offensively, it could be their internal dialogue. If you actually do meditation or japa, you can slow the mind down. Then you can start to hear your own mind dialogue and see if you are believing it! You can actually change what it repeats to being more positive but those things are all kind of tied together. I think most people don't even realize they are separate from their thoughts. If you don’t disassociate from your thoughts, then for you that's the reality. My experience, and what Swami tried to teach us is that's not the reality. That dialogue is what tells you that everyone and anyone else is to blame!
One of the biggest things for me was understanding that with recapitulation you are not re-experiencing it, you are just witnessing it. For example, think of a time that you said something to someone and got a big reaction from them, and then you reacted back. If you practice recapitulation, you can go back as an external witness to observe that event from a neutral place. From that place, you can see that there are other options. Maybe that person was just having a bad day and what they said had nothing to do with you at all, and because you escalated it, you turned it into this huge thing instead of just letting them be in a bad mood. And you could just drop it right there. Or maybe they're pointing something out in you that you haven't been able to see, and if you just accept that, receive that reflection, then you could heal. So there are a lot of possibilities. If you can see that even in that moment, there were options, that you could have done something differently. No one can do that for us. You have to do that for yourself.
The last part of that process is forgiveness for yourself and for that person. One of the key things is forgiving the other person for you. You're not forgiving them because they deserve it, whether they do or not! You're forgiving to help yourself. You're the one that suffers by not forgiving because you're holding that negativity and grudge and carrying it through time and it's affecting you.
You can feel it in your body, when you let it go. There's tension that will release, you can feel it. You can check because you can think about that situation that tension doesn't come back. So that is why Swami would circle back around to things, weeks or months later, to give me the chance to check if it was really gone! He would throw something out to see if I reacted. And, you know, like I said with him, it didn't even have to be much of a reaction, it could be subtle or energetic and he would know.
He could tell if you hadn't let go of it yet. There’s no hiding from the master.
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.