by Aniello Panico
Adi Da radiates His Divinely Enlightened Condition to others all the time. When you are around Him, when you read His books, when you spend time with His devotees, you feel His "Brightness" shining on you, lighting you up, energizing you, clarifying you in all kinds of ways, just as He describes. But you cannot just be a robot or a passive character, sitting near Him like a schlump and hope to have Divine Enlightenment fall on your head. The Way of the Heart is a participatory process. In other words, you not only receive, you must also give in full measure. You must actually apply His Wisdom in your life. You must understand your limitations and go beyond them. That is part of what makes the Way of the Heart so interesting and so challenging.
In my own case, after I became His devotee, I started to observe the habits I had developed all my life, habits I had never really inspected before. I began to observe what Adi Da calls "the self-contraction"the self-contraction being my own reaction to the wounds and tests of life: my own reaction to having been born in a world where things can hurt and where we die; my presumption of being a separate, self-enclosed being instead of remaining open, vulnerable, alive to the inherent Unity of things. With Adi Da's help, I began to see that, even though life is difficult, I don't have to compound the difficulty by adding the self-contraction to it. I started to see that I was never going to be really and truly Happy unless I released my active commitment to the self-contraction, to un-Happiness.
One time in 1978, for example, I was having a hard time with my girlfriend. Adi Da had invited us to His housethere must have been about a hundred people there all together, talking and laughing with one another, listening as much as they could to Adi Da while He spoke with those close to Him, and in general being very animated and excited about spending this time with Him. This particular night, though, I was arguing with my intimate friend.
I didn't think it was right to do that in front of Adi Da, so I took her to the back of the room. When we got there, she said something critical to me and I blew up at her, swearing at her and telling her to get lost. I am from a volatile Italian family and I can get pretty angry, as I did on this occasion.Even though I tried to keep my voice down so that I wouldn't disturb Him, Adi Da stopped talking and zeroed in on me from across the room.
"Aniello!" He shouted over the party noise.
Still in the huff of my anger, I answered back, "What?!" All of a sudden, everything got very quiet.
"Did you see what you just did?"
His question completely stopped me. It turned me around.
"Yeah, I did."
"You saw what you just did?"
"What did you do?"
"I totally contracted. I reacted and withdrew and then I lashed back with my anger."
"You actually saw that?"
"Great. Never do that again."
I couldn't believe He meant it. I said, "Do You really mean never do that again?" My question was part-joke, part-serious.
"Yes!" He bantered back humorously, "You saw it!"
"You really mean it? Never again?
He was calling me to take responsibility for what I had seen, but I was still trying to jive my way out of it. I bargained, "Well, there are all kinds of mechanisms, all kinds of ways that I contract and withdraw."
But He did not relent. He said, "But you saw what you do."
I had to admit it, "Yes, I did."
It was trueas soon as He first interrupted me, I knew what I was up to and I could release it. I dropped my anger on the spot. For an angry Italian like me, that was a big deal. I would never have been able to do it without His help.
I wish I could tell you that I never expressed anger irresponsibly again, but the truth is that I have had to go through a process of growth and understanding relative to my anger (and all the other ways I enact the self-contraction) over many years. But I can tell you thisI am more responsible for my anger (and my un-Happiness in general) than I was in those early days, and I am very, very grateful for that.
Over the years, it has become more and more obvious to me that, without help, you cannot observe all the limits that you tend to place on Happiness. You need the Guru's Help, but you also need the help of like-minded people. You need the help of fellow devotees. That is why living in community is another important aspect of the Way of the Heartall of Adi Da's devotees cooperate to support that process of inspection and change in one another.
Dealing with real life-situations and actual relationships with others means that your religious practice has got to be more than philosophy. You have to actually put it to the test and really live it. For me, living and practicing the Way of the Heart with others has certainly been a source of many lessons about the self-contraction.
Years ago, I was in a meeting with some other devotees and I said some unkind things to one of the men there, a friend of mine. What I said in the meeting was true. It was even the purpose of this particular meeting to bring these hard truths to this man. It was clear to all his friends that he needed to see these things about himself, so that he could release them and move on. But my own motives weren't all that pure, and instead of serving my friend, I gave him a hard time.
After the group was over, both of us were invited over to Adi Da's house. While we were there, I started feeling bad about what I had done. Even though what I said was true, I had said it in a way that had caused this man a lot of pain. I had really hurt somebody and I knew it.
There were a number of us there that day, sitting in the main room of Adi Da's house, conversing with Him and listening to Him talk. Usually, in those situations, I am pretty gregarious, but on this day I was quiet. I could tell my friend was hurt and I was starting to feel worse and worse about it. Generally, if I withdrew from my usual lively participation in the conversation, Adi Da would know that I was reacting to something and He would ask me, usually in some humorous way, to drop what I was reacting to and participate again. But on this day, He just let me stew.
Hours went by, and I was a total wreck. I had already apologized to my friend, but I still felt bad about what I had done. Suddenly, although I don't know what triggered it, I crossed over. As I was sitting there with my Guru and my friends, I felt an immense wave of genuine love and compassion for the man I had hurt. I felt his struggle and his pain. It wasn't any different than my own struggle and pain. I felt compassion for us both. The principle of separation wasn't operative any morehe wasn't the injured party and I wasn't the guilty party. We were both part of the same process. I felt humbled, relieved, and, above all, I felt a most purifying, cleansing force of love. Without having to do anything more about it, I felt restored in my relationship to my friend, and I felt more deeply open to everyone in the room. In that moment, out of the blue, Adi Da reached over to me, grabbed my head, gave me a big kiss, and said, "I love you."
At first I was surprised and even disoriented, but then I realized that He was acknowledging what I had understood. He was confirming the certainty in me that regret is a superficial emotion and that true remorse is deeper than that. True remorse washes away the self-contraction and the sense of separation. True remorse is a purifying force that restores you to relationship, to non-separation, to love. I had seen the destructiveness of my own un-love, and I had seen the power of what true remorse can achieve. And my Guru, by giving me the space to suffer my own activity and by so dramatically responding to my change of heart when it took place, had supported and confirmed that very process in me.
Over the years, Adi Da has helped me to examine so many of the different ways that my self-contraction manifestsall my habits of un-Happiness, from self-indulgence, vanity, anger, and sarcasm to competitiveness and invulnerability, just to name a few. And each time that my commitment to un-Happiness becomes obvious and I discipline it in the way that Adi Da recommends, it disintegrates over time. Why would I want to do that anymore? Why would I need to do that anymore? Adi Da has shown me that there is a much Greater Reality, a Great and Mysterious Enjoyment that you can "locate" when you let go of the self-contraction.
AVATAR ADI DA SAMRAJ: You must lose face in relation to the Truth. It is quite a different thing from being caught nude in the subway. You lose face by exposing yourself absolutely to God, to the Guru, to your own Nature, by becoming known. Becoming enthusiastic in the Guru's Company is very difficult. Becoming full of love and service without self-concern is immensely difficult in the Guru's Company. People do not want to do that because they interpret the Guru in human terms. They think of the Guru as another human individual, and as soon as that occurs in the mind the conflicts that you ordinarily live with human individuals arise and your separation from the Guru is sealed. But you must see the strategies that are arising in you always and see how they are wedded to the principle of unconsciousness, of conflict, of dilemma. You must see how they are always creating that, and when you see that you will become available to the relationship to the Guru.
In the early days of my relationship to Him, Adi Da played pool with me pretty frequentlyand He always used those occasions to Teach me a thing or two about myself and my relationship to Him!
Since I spent so much time in pool halls in New York when I was growing up, I thought I was a pretty good pool shooter. Adi Da hadn't learned to play pool like I did when He was youngHis background was nothing like mine. So, when we played pool, I always tried to show Him the respect I felt He should have as my Guru. I hedged my shots a little bit so that I wouldn't beat Him, and I would set shots up for Him, and so forth. I felt it was only right, even only fair, since He obviously wasn't raised in the streets and the pool halls, like I was.
But one time He just played one hell of a game. I started really bearing down and playing my best game, actually trying to beat Him. This particular game went on for quite some time, but finally He beat me fair and square. When He won, He slammed His stick down on the table, turned to me, and said, "Screw you, Aniello!"
I knew exactly what He was talking about. All this time, I had been the macho guy, acting superior, even condescending to Him in my macho, New-York, Mr. Cool-asshole routine. I had been trying to beat Him in another way, just as real but not as obviousat least not to me. It was a great lesson about how I related to him as an ordinary man and as someone to compete with, rather than as my Guru, someone to approach with genuine respect and humility.
That kind of competition between men is destructive. It kills feeling, vulnerability, cooperation. And it makes Spiritual surrender and the reception of Grace impossiblehow can you surrender to a Guru you are competing with? How can you receive Grace when you are in a battle with the Source?
This tendency to compete is something I have had to deal with in my relationships to all my men friendsand here I was, playing it out with the God-Man. When I finally was able to see it, and to feel how painfully wrong it was in my relationship to Him, I was so grateful to let it go. But the lesson didn't stop there.
One night, a couple of years later, Adi Da turned to me and said, "Aniello, why don't you tell us about your relationship to your father?" I had already told Him a lot about my childhood, so I knew that this was going to be more than just a story-telling occasion. I knew He was going to "get into it" with me. In addition, there were about a hundred people in the room, and I wasn't completely comfortable about having this large an audience while my emotional history was being intimately inspected. I shivered as two hundred eyes turned toward me.
But on a more fundamental level, I trust Adi Da absolutely. Sometimes His tests are difficult, but I wanted Him to do His Work with me. So I told Him again about my father.
My father was a gregarious man, who had a generous, loving, sociable side to him. But he also had a violent and angry sidehe beat my mother, and even though he never hit me I felt that he abused me emotionally. I grew up feeling tornI loved him and I hated him. While I was describing all this, Adi Da asked me questionsasking me to describe specific incidents in detail, what my feelings at the time were, and so on.
His conversation with me artfully exposed my anger at my father. I had tried to heal my relationship with my father over the yearsonce we sat down and, over a bottle of brandy, talked out our conflicts and our feelings about one another. But even though we had worked through things to a very real degree, I still harbored a lot of hurt. You could hear it in my voice as I talked about him now with my Guru. Adi Da helped me to get down to some core emotions that were still coloring my life.
At some point in my description, Adi Da asked me, "How old are you now?"
"Forty." I answered.
"You are forty years old! When are you going to stop blaming your father? He just did what he did in his time. He didn't know any better. He obviously loved you the way he knew how, and you obviously love him. How can you keep blaming your father?"
And I said, "Right." I didn't feel chastized by Adi Da for feeling something wrong or for being immature. In fact, I felt quite the opposite. I felt His Love in that moment, and His demand to finally grow up, and I felt Grace helping me to let go of the pain I had been hanging on to. (And, looking back, I can say that I have never blamed my father since.)
But the purification wasn't an easy one. I felt as though I had been turned inside out and all my guts were exposed. Now I wasn't angry at my father, but I got angry at my Guru instead. I was angry with Him for exposing me at such a deep emotional level, and in front of so many people. After the conversation about my relationship with my father was over, I got quiet and the conversation went on to other people, other topics.
After about an hour, Adi Da suggested that we all go down to the hot mineral baths that were on the Sanctuary property where He was living at that time. We all crowded into the largest bathit was the size of a swimming pooland I purposely stayed on the opposite end from Adi Da. I was angry and I was avoiding Him. But He wasn't going to leave it at thatafter a while, He suggested, "Aniello, why don't you lead us in a chant?"
We often chanted to Him, as a way of expressing our love and devotion to Him. That had to be the last thing in the world that I wanted to do at that particular moment, so I didn't respond. He persisted, "Why don't you lead us in Om Nama Shivaya?" He knew it was my favoritean ancient Indian devotional chant. So I sang at the top of my lungs for an incredibly long time. Even though I could feel the anger being gradually released as I sang, I still wouldn't give in completely.
Finally, Adi Da drifted over to me in the water. By that time, there were tears in my eyesI had started to feel this whole ordeal in the context of my devotion to Him, how much I love Him, and how He was doing it all to liberate me. When He got over to me, He put His arm around me. I felt His tremendous Love for me. Then He threw His head back and laughed uproariously. He wasn't laughing at meHis laughter helped me more than I can say. He restored my humor and washed away my anger and withholdingnot only in my relationship with Him as my Guru, but in my relationship to my father. Somehow, through the force of His Love, He enabled me to let go of the hurt and anger I felt about all that my father had done to my mother, my sisters, myself.
He had sometimes said to me, "You know, I'm not your father." Now I felt Him enacting a primal healing in me, releasing my pain, transforming my relationship to my father, to Him, and to all men, making it possible for me to let down my guard and let love in. In that moment, I could feel the difference between the Help of the God-Man and conventional psychoanalysis. I felt so fortunateI had received far more than just insight into my angry character. He had filled me with a Force of Love that made it possible for me to let it all go and live differently from that moment forward. His Divine "Siddhi"His Spiritual Powerhad effected a literal transformation in me.
Aniello's story concludes on page 5:
previous pages in this story:
page 1: Anyone Can Be Transformed
page 2: Meeting the Man of Understanding