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Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Time Event
9:19a
Her name is written on the Clouds
This was another of those Dollar Store finds … and I actually went back to pick up another copy to pass along to a friend, so I guess that says something. Swami Ramananda's Bliss Now!: My Journey with Sri Sri Anandamayi Ma is certainly not the typical fare for the dollar store, and, I have a hard time imagining that this was remaindered off of the Walmart shelves, given its subject matter, but it's over at Dollar Tree in quantity, yet is still available on-line.

Bliss Now! is a “spiritual autobiography”of Swami Ramananda (on who I was unable to dig up any biographical information, beyond what's in the book, so I can't even give you his “real name”). In his youth, he had recurring dreams of a lady, who was encouraging him to come to India, and he managed to follow this and come in contact with his guru, the famed Sri Anandamayi Ma.

This book owes an inspirational debt to Ram Dass' Be Here Now from 1971 … a relationship that Ramananda is certainly cognizant of, mentioning it on a number of occasions. There is a connection, as Ram Dass' teacher, Karoli Baba, is one of the figures here, but I'm pretty sure that the “look” of this book isn't accidentally evocative of the older one (and there's a quote here suggesting that Bliss Now! completes a trilogy, with Bhagavan Dass' It's Here Now, Are You? being the middle expression).

This is one of those books that likely has less to do with the author's history as it does with his inner journey. There is a lot happening within its pages, but not so much in its text. Ramananda (or whatever his birth name was) has visions, convinces his family that he needs to go to India, gets there and (in the narrative) almost immediately hooks up with his first teacher, Swami Shankarananda Giri, and begins traveling visiting various holy men. His teacher decides it's time to part ways (he believes it's his time to die), and begins the long walk to Benares … leaving Ramananda behind, but also set up as his dharma successor. The author begins to wander, when suddenly a car lurches through the forest he's in, and who happens to be there, but Sri Anandamayi Ma, who “recognizes” him from previous lives and tells him to get in the car.

Now, obviously, one has to either have experiences that include these sorts of belief systems or be able to “suspend disbelief” a lot here, as there is a recurring element of “spiritual recognition” going on from “past lives” (and it seems that the author and his main teachers seem to hold that he's a reincarnation of the 15th century Indian saint, but not to be confused with other teachers concurrently going by the same name). There is also a lot of “spiritual experience” being presented as literal happenings (people “glowing”, etc.) which likewise requires a cognitive jump for most folks.

One thing I wondered about here was the timing of the book … Sri Anandamayi Ma died in 1982 at age 86, but the autobiographical part of the book only tracks up to that point. Yet Bliss Now! did not come out until 2002 … when Ramananda got his PhD (in Indian Philosophy and Yoga, from a U.K. university). Following his guru's death, Ramananda goes back to the US, and begins to be a Yoga teacher … but there is scant info on that. The second part of the book is a collection of pictures of and devotional poems about Sri Anandamayi Ma, which is then followed by his explaining about the various types of Yoga that his teachers practiced, the obvious Bhakti Yoga (focusing on devotion to the deity), Japa Yoga (using mantras), and then a long section on Hatha Yoga featuring him demonstrating (in photos) a couple of dozen poses (which, one has to ask, are of what use here? … one can hardly do a practice out of a single picture and a paragraph of description!), before getting into Karma Yoga, with a lot of diet and houskeeping suggestions, and finally discussing building communities. The book closes out with suggested reading and web sites, and a fairly extensive listing of Sanskrit terms and their definitions.

Frankly, it feels like Ramananda really wanted to do two books here, one the autobiographical part up front, and the other the explanatory material in the back. I think this would have been better had he been able to flesh out the first section of the book to more than the 54 pages he applies to his spiritual journey. I'm sure he has fascinating stories to tell about many of the spiritual teachers that he largely only name-checks there. Ramananda keeps falling back to his theme of “bliss” rather than talking about the who/what/when/where of the situations, which may be sort of the point, but “I was at this place with this person and it was so blissful” only goes so far as literary structure.

I did enjoy Bliss Now!, however, and found a number of things that will be interesting to follow up on. I should probably note that I have never “gotten” the Bhakti Yoga path, and that's clearly the central element here, so there's a lot of the essence of the book that I just wasn't connecting with … but that's likely to be more me than him. As noted, this is still available via the big on-line companies (Amazon has it at a whopping 60% discount), but if you have a Dollar Tree handy, you might well be able to find a copy for a buck out there … the one I went to today had a dozen or more copies on hand, so I'm guessing it's out there pretty broadly at the moment!


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