Kalpa Tree Press
Contemporary Classics in Vedanta


In the Company of Swami Ashokananda

By Sister Gargi (Marie Louise Burke)

Trade Paperback, 320 pages
36 Photographs
LCCN 2003107619
ISBN 0-9706368-2-2
Kalpa Tree Press


A DISCIPLE'S JOURNAL is Sister Gargi's personal story of her spiritual training over two decades by Swami Ashokananda (1893-1969), the illustrious spiritual teacher of the Ramakrishna Order who headed the Vedanta Society of Northern California. Her journal begins in 1950 when the Swami started to teach her meditation in the Hindu tradition of Vedanta. Marie Louise Burke, as she was then known, went on to become a prominent literary figure in the Vedanta movement and later a respected monastic.
     Sister Gargi shares the riches of her long and fruitful spiritual quest. She also shares her struggles with self-doubt, writer's block, and divorce, along with the low points of her spiritual journey. Readers can eavesdrop on spontaneous moments of spiritual instruction, during which the author is lifted from a state of uncertainty into a confident possession of her own being. This journal gives the reader intimate glimpses of her inner development through the loving insights and scoldings of an authentic spiritual guide. A drama unfolds between teacher and disciple that is more poignant than fiction.

"This new book by Sister Gargi is the ideal companion to her notable biography of Swami Ashokananda. Its heartfelt firsthand accounts pass the impact he had on her on to her readers. Sister Gargi is to be thanked for another important entry in the archives of world spirituality."

—HUSTON SMITH, internationally renowned author of
The World's Religions and Why Religion Matters

SISTER GARGI (MARIE LOUISE BURKE) is the award-winning author of the six-volume classic Swami Vivekananda in the West: New Discoveries, and other distinguished works. Her recent biography of Swami Ashokananda (A Heart Poured Out) received popular and critical acclaim.


(from Cast of Characters)

We felt a warm and comfortable delight in being together—the women students of Swami Ashokananda. Whatever our ages or backgrounds, and they both ranged widely, there was a camaraderie between us that made any of our gatherings, large or small, seem like a reunion of compatriots in a foreign land, or, more to the point, a get-together of aliens on planet Earth. We spoke the same language, which was not understood in the slightest degree by our everyday associates; we used the same currency to assess the value of the things around us; and we understood not only why some things were valuable and others were not, but why some things were hilarious and others stupefyingly dull.
      Over and above these cultural likenesses, and perhaps at the root of them, was the fact that we loved the ideal of Vedanta with all our hearts and pursued it without compromise and without rivalry among ourselves. Swami Ashokananda's teaching molded our lives and gave them meaning, and it was broad enough to encompass and sustain us all.

(from Chapter 1)

In the summer of 1949, Swami Ashokananda had said he would be my teacher. Although I didn't know exactly what that meant, I didn't care; I was overjoyed. Whatever it was, it was what I wanted. That much I knew.
       A few months later, I had to move with my husband, Jackson, to the East Coast, a whole continent—and a whole world—away. In the sweltering July and August of a Manhattan summer, I wrote several letters to Swami, telling him of some dreams I was having. He wrote back to say that they were "significant." A little later, he sent me some instructions in meditation, which I followed to the letter and also with my whole heart and soul. After a few weeks my brain did a series of what felt like somersaults. I reported these cerebral acrobatics to Swami.
       Alarmed, Swami sent a series of telegrams: STOP MEDITATING AT ONCE. WRITE TO ME DAILY. He told me the brain ("like an old jalopy") had to catch up with the meditating mind, particularly when the meditation was on the philosophical side. He said he would tell me more when I returned to San Francisco for a visit.
       It was not until the summer of 1950, during one of my frequent visits to San Francisco, that his instructions became more specific. My journal entries for that year all took place in Swami's office in the Old Temple, the first Hindu temple in the Western world

June 15, 1950

Swami told me to meditate on two specific holy people.
Me: Can't I also meditate on God?

Swami: Just do as I tell you. They are God.
Me: Yes—but with form.
Swami: What is wrong with form? I like form.
Me: Yes. But I don't understand God with form.
Swami: Do you have to understand?
Me: Sometimes I like to understand.
Swami (more kindly): Do you understand how food is digested, how vitamins are absorbed into the body? Must you know all that before you will eat?
Me: No.
Swami: Meditate as I tell you. It is food. It is not necessary to understand.

June 16, 1950

Today Swami said I must never be impatient about realizing God. If there is quiet determination, it will come. It is not alone through meditation that one grows in spirituality; one absorbs it throughout the day. One must just go on breathing; one cannot stop breathing. Breathe like a fish. He imitated a fish and looked exactly like one—a great benevolent fish in an ocean of spirituality, breathing in and out effortlessly and blissfully. I could not laugh; it was such a beautiful picture. (As I was to learn later, he was a marvelous mimic, particularly of animals—lions and cobras and birds. And also of people—though I never saw him imitate any person except to his or her face, and then hilariously and often devastatingly.)

Copyright © 2005 Kalpa Tree Press


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Copyright © 2005 Kalpa Tree Press