Play of Consciousness. Just hearing Gurumayi mention Baba's spiritual autobiography took me way back to the start of my sadhana. Like every good beginner Siddha Yogi I had bought a copy of the hard cover edition, the one with the picture of Baba in his "lion of ganeshpuri" shaktipat pose on the cover. I began to devour it immediately, but have to say I didn't finish it for a long time. SY was too new and there were just too many other books and talks to command my attention (interesting phrase, that). And Play of Consciousness, let's face it, is a tough read for those who have not yet developed the appetite for colorful yogic kriyas and abstruse Indian philosophy. In the first years of my sadhana, it was just too much.
Eventually, of course, I came around. You just couldn't NOT read it if you were serious about the path. For a time during the late eighties and early nineties it was mentioned in every course, every Intensive. I vividly remember sitting on the hillside overlooking Nityananda Lake during the Fire Course one summer night. The leaders of the course were selectively humiliating South Fallsburg ashram insiders under the guise of asking them 'fiery' questions about their sadhana. The rumor was that the swamis asking the tough questions were wearing hidden earphones, that it was really Gurumayi who was behind the 'tapasya'. Later, it came out that it had been George Afif on the other end of the microphone, settling old scores and maintaining his iron grip over the ashram. As a newcomer and 'short term retreat participant' I couldn't know any of this; I just bought the line that those 'closest to the Guru's fire' were burning up karma.
At some point the questions came addressed to the general assembly of course participants. "Who here is not afraid of dying?" was one of the first. When a smattering of souls raised their hands they were made to stand up; the bravest among them volunteered to be handed a mic and have their resolve tested. As each one explained the source of their fearlessness the leaders mocked them, exposed their flimsy devotional rationales, taunted them by saying that the Guru wouldn't be with them at the moment of their death. I remember this so well because my best friend at the time was one of the unfortunates. I ached for him, but wasn't fearless enough to stand up in his defense, only smart enough to keep my head down and not answer the next question—which was "Who here has not read Play of Consciousness?" Amazingly, people stood up to confess this lapse. You can imagine the abuse these 'seekers after the truth' were subjected to—they wanted to follow in Baba's footsteps and couldn't even be bothered to read his spiritual autobiography?
But the leaders were not finished with the rest of us. "Who has only read Play of Consciousness once? Stand up!" And then, of course, who has read it only twice? Three times? The point was hammered home with each fresh rank of failures, until nearly everybody was standing. Why hadn't we read the greatest book about sadhana ever written, over and over again? What obstinancy kept us from continually studying what was the sum and summation of Baba's spiritual knowledge and attainment! What kind of seekers were we?
Word of the Fire Course spread through the Siddha Yoga sangham like, well, like a wildfire. When the 25th anniversary edition of Play of Consciousness was subsequently published it was hard to find anyone at the ashram who didn't have a new copy tucked under their arm or open on their lap. I read it again and again. By this time I was better able to appreciate this strange book with its exotic accounts of Baba's night time meditations, when he would be visited by gods and goddesses who would take him with them to Siddha Loka, or the moon, or hell, like otherworldly tour guides. Some of the language was utterly beautiful. I remember one passage in particular in which Baba uncharacteristically couldn't remember what had taken place during his meditation, only that entering it was like floating on a black river beneath the silent gates of a dark city. The account of Baba's initiation by Bhagawan Nityananda was towering in its serene, majestic beauty. Whoever wrote Play of Consciousness (and speculation tends to run to Amma, Baba's personal assistant at the time, whose name, whose very existence, has been scrubbed from SY history) was a fantastically talented writer.
At that moment I was interrupted from my reverie and my attention turned back to the hall as I heard Gurumayi rushing on with her talk:
"Play of Consciousness. Chit Shakti Vilas. To describe the importance of meditation and spiritual practice, Swami Muktananda wrote what has become THE BOOK for those who want to pursue sadhana. On Baba's 100th birthday I'd like to bring your attention to the SY legacy. Baba Muktananda established the SY path as a living tradition for seekers of the truth around the world. Baba's mahaprasad, his supreme gift to us is the great legacy of essential SY teachings. These teachings are alive with divine grace, they are chaitanya, they have been infused with the guru's prana shakti, the guru's breath which is chaitanya."
As she spoke, Gurumayi repeated many words and entire phrases in Hindi, as if to give them added legitimacy, to stress that they come from outside the Western tradition and are unknowable to devotees unless the Guru translates them into terms we can understand. She went on to talk about how we have the teachings because of the way Baba undertook his sadhana, how he respected the teachings and guidance he received from his Guru, how he studied, practiced, assimilated and implemented the SY teachings.
And then she began a familiar practice, taking each word she had used to describe Baba's sadhana and giving its dictionary definition, but I was still thinking about Play of Consciousness. Why had she brought it up, only to immediately move on? Had the most important book in Siddha Yoga become nothing more than a throw-away line? Or was there something I was missing? Could this be one of those mysterious hints Gurumayi was so good about hiding in her talks--the kind that would become poured over and interpreted and re-interpreted during a year's worth of study sessions? If so, what did it mean?
Gurumayi was using the occasion of Baba's 100th birthday as a pretext to examine the origins and trace the lineage of Siddha Yoga, following the transmission of teachings and grace from Bhagawan NItyananda to Baba Muktananda to...who? Wouldn't it be natural to say that the transmission continued with her Guru-hood? Why this lacuna? Why stop at Baba's teachings as exemplified in his book Play of Consciousness, or, in its original name:
Chit Shakti Vilas
Oh. right. I get it now. Bringing up the name of Baba's autobiography is a neat way for Gurumayi to remind us that Baba passed the lineage on to her, Swami Chidvilasananda, without having to deal with the messiness of narrating the actual succession drama, i.e. first her brother Nityananda is raised to the guru's chair by Baba, then she is installed as his co-successor and then, soon after Baba's death, the coup.
This sleight of hand has another purpose, it allows Gurumayi to simultaneously claim the Siddha Yoga Guruhood, and deftly sidestep it. Because when she retreats back out of the spotlight this taped message has briefly thrown on her to resume whatever life she is leading, her students will doubtless be told that this is an act of humility, that she wishes them to receive their instruction not from Chidvilasananda, but from their paid study of Chit Shakti Vilas.