The chanting of Om Namo Bhagavate Muktanandaya in the Bhupali raga was resounding throughout Atma Nidhi as Gurumayi stepped into the Annapurna Dining Hall. Participants had gathered there to welcome Gurumayi for the birthday cake-cutting ceremony.
Since Gurudev Siddha Peeth, the first Siddha Yoga Ashram, was established in India in 1956, the area where food is prepared and served in the Ashrams has been called Annapurna. Gurumayi’s Guru, Baba Muktananda, gave it this name to honor Annapurna Devi—the presiding deity of food, the goddess of nourishment. Time and again over the years, Gurumayi and Baba have imparted the teaching “Food is God.” And many of us have taken great inspiration from Gurumayi’s talk of the same name, “Food Is God,” which she gave for her birthday in 2016. On the Siddha Yoga path we honor Annapurna Devi by singing a beautiful hymn called the Annapurna Stotram.
Among the people who welcomed Gurumayi in Annapurna Dining Hall were many young children with their families. There was also a six-month-old puppy, Adideva, whose caretakers are Shubha de Oliveira-Thompson, one of the Managers for Shree Muktananda Ashram, and Ryan Thompson, who is head of the Garden Department.
Once Gurumayi had taken her seat, Elizabeth Greig, the master of ceremonies and a Trustee of the SYDA Foundation, welcomed Gurumayi and invited everyone to join her in wishing Gurumayi a happy birthday. We had all been waiting for this moment—when we could collectively offer Gurumayi our love and wish her the best birthday ever!
Then Krishna Haddad, the Music Director for the Birthday Celebration, led the music ensemble—and all of us—in reciting Shri Guru Paduka Panchakam, “Five Stanzas on the Sandals of Shri Guru.” On the Siddha Yoga path, these stanzas are recited each morning as part of the recitation of Shri Guru Gita, in salutation to Shri Guru’s feet. The scriptures extol Shri Guru’s lotus feet as the embodiment of knowledge and shakti. The power of Shri Guru’s padukas is exemplified in the story of Nizamuddin and Amir Khusro, which we often tell and read at the time of Gurupurnima.
Our hearts were positively brimming with devotion after honoring Gurumayi in this way. At Krishna’s direction we began singing the bhajan Naco Re Mero Mana. Gurumayi composed the music for this bhajan, which was written by the poet-saint Kabir, for the Siddha Yoga Winter Retreat in 1997-1998 in Santa Clara, California. For the last many years, it has been sung for every celebration of Gurumayi’s birthday around the world.
In verse 1 of this bhajan we sing:
In this upsurge of divine love,
the planets and stars are dancing with ecstasy.
Each new birth of a soul is a matter of great joy.
The hills and the sea and the earth dance.
All humanity celebrates this bliss with laughter and tears.
A visiting sevite shared his experience of singing Naco re Mero Mana for Gurumayi:
While we sang, one six-month-old baby, who was sitting up and gazing at Gurumayi, seemed to be relishing every moment. His hands and arms waved, his body swayed, and his smile was radiant. Gurumayi opened her eyes wide at him, causing him to giggle merrily. At one point he rested his hand over his heart, and Gurumayi responded by placing her hand on her heart. Their communication was beautiful to watch and moved my heart deeply.
The “upsurge of divine love” was palpable in the hall. We were all experiencing it as Elizabeth warmly invited Gurumayi to cut the birthday cake.
Gurumayi turned her head and saw the beautiful cake. Then Gurumayi said, “I have a story to tell.” And she told the following story:
Once there was a rabbi. Yes, telling a rabbi story in the Catskills is the right thing to do. This rabbi was eighty years old. And one day, someone asked him a question.
“Rabbi, you used to have thousands of disciples, and now you only have three. What happened?“
The rabbi said, “I was young once upon a time. I could take care of all those disciples. And now I’m eighty. I can only take care of three disciples. “
Gurumayi explained why she was telling this story. “Over the years, I have noticed that the birthday cake is always a different size. In fact, I was told that one year, in the early 1990s, the gorgeous birthday cake was so humongous that the bakers couldn’t fit it through the doors! They had to remove the doors from their hinges to get the cake through!”
This image elicited a wave of laughter through Annapurna Dining Hall. Our imaginations ran freely. How gargantuan that cake must have been! What could its measurements have possibly been? As we were still chuckling, Gurumayi connected the dots for us between the rabbi story and the size of her birthday cake this year. She said, “Once upon a time I was young. All my birthday cakes were so huge that the bakers had to go to the Maintenance Area to bring people to break down the doors. So when I glanced at this year’s cake, I thought, ‘Just like the rabbi, I must be getting old. The bakers must think this is the size of cake Gurumayi can handle now.’”
At this, there was an explosion of laughter. Gurumayi’s laughing voice and the laughter of all the devotees were like thunder reverberating through Annapurna Dining Hall. In that moment of hilarity, Gurumayi said, “We are presenting laughter today! This is the theme of this Birthday Celebration 2018: Presenting Laughter!”
Gurumayi then got up from her seat to approach the cake. She saw a ten-year-old Siddha Yogi named Prema standing nearby in a colorful celebration outfit. Gurumayi asked Prema if she would like to help cut the cake. Prema responded with a big smile and a nod. Together they blew out the eleven slender golden candles that had been meticulously placed on one of the tiers of the cake, and we all joined our voices in calling out, “Sadgurunath Maharaj ki Jay!”
Gurumayi folded Prema’s hands in her own and guided her in slicing the first piece of cake. Gurumayi took a small piece of cake on a fork and held it up to Prema, whose eyes opened wide in delight as she received this prasad. Gurumayi asked Prema if the cake was good, and Prema’s eyes got even wider as she enthusiastically nodded her head and said, “Mmmmmmmm!”
There’s a story behind this moment, which was deeply significant for Prema. Six years ago, in 2012, when Prema was four years old, she had participated in Gurumayi’s Birthday Celebration in Shree Muktananda Ashram. Many children were gathered around as Gurumayi went to cut her birthday cake. After blowing out the candles, Gurumayi began sharing the first bites of cake with the children. At one point, Gurumayi held out a small piece of cake to a young boy who shook his head from side to side, indicating no—he did not want to taste the cake. Gurumayi then turned to the next child, who happened to be Prema, to give her some cake. Prema imitated the boy and shook her head. She didn’t take the cake that Gurumayi was giving to her. The other children, meanwhile, excitedly accepted pieces of cake from Gurumayi, and they all relished the taste.
This interaction from 2012 is recorded in the Birthday Bliss Pilgrimage video on the Siddha Yoga path website. Prema and her family and friends watched that video many times over the years. Whenever they watched, someone would comment on how Prema didn’t accept the cake from Gurumayi. Prema has often thought about that moment, about not taking the sweet prasad from her Guru that day. Prema’s parents thought that Prema’s natural inclination had been to accept the cake that Gurumayi was giving her. Yet, instead of following her heart, she looked at what the little boy before her did and followed suit, as she thought that must be the “appropriate thing“ to do.
This year, in 2018, not only did Prema help Gurumayi cut the birthday cake, but when Gurumayi went to give her a piece, she was open and receptive to Gurumayi’s invitation to taste it. She listened to her own heart and readily accepted the prasad. Anyone who has watched the Birthday Bliss Pilgrimage video and then witnessed this moment—or is reading this account—would have the revelation that Prema has changed her narrative. She has reshaped her destiny.
After the cake-cutting ceremony, Gurumayi looked at all of us and, with a big smile and a twinkle in her eye, she said, “Thank you all very much. You may now go to Shri Nilaya to begin the Birthday Celebration Satsang, and I will go to Annapurna Kitchen to check if the cooks are preparing lunch for us. We’ll meet again soon.”
Hearing Gurumayi say that she was going to check if lunch was being prepared tickled our funny bones to the max! We’ve come to cherish Gurumayi’s teasing, her humor and her playfulness. Knowing that there would be more to this celebration—we would be meeting Gurumayi again soon!—made our hearts leap with joy. We didn’t have to walk; we practically floated to Shri Nilaya to prepare to welcome Gurumayi once again.
Click here to read Part IV