Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Atlanta parts 3-8

So, I've been thinking a lot about why it's so hard for me to tell this story, and I think the problem is, I don't know how the story ends. I mean, I've left the Ashram, so the episode is over, but I can't make heads or tales of what happened. I think I'm gonna sit with this story for a long time before I figure out what was really going on. But I want to share some of the pieces with you guys, so maybe you can figure it out with me, and then we can move on to clearer, more adventurey adventures.

Here's the plan for a little while: This post and the next are gonna hit the last beats on this Atlanta moment and its consequences. Up next I'll cover my departure from the Ashram, the last thing Ma told me, and some reflections on the whole experience. After that I'll go back in time a week and talk about flying up to Boston from the Ashram for a few days to check out a rabbinical school. If I can write all that in two weeks, I'll only be on a two month lag time!

Sound good? Let's see how it pans out.


April 20th
Dear Ma,

I'm sorry. I am so, so, very sorry. I'm sorry I yelled, and that I hurt you and the people around you. I'm sorry for my defensive letter that night, and for waiting so long to send you this one. I made a terrible choice, and denied that it was even a choice, and I'm very sorry. It would be wrong to treat anyone that way, and so much more so you. 

I cry, and picture your face, and I know there's no way for ego to deserve the depth of your love. The choice that you made, to take me in and hug me and keep loving me, despite my anger and shame, is so much more love than I ever thought I could have. I needed so desperately to believe in your holy love, and I'm so sorry that I had to act out so terribly to finally see that I had it. I can still feel your arms around me, and your shoulder under my tears, and I'm so grateful that you could face down the worst side of me and keep loving me anyway. I'm so sorry I made it come to that. Thank you for loving me, and proving with your love that I am not my anger.

When you took my pain I saw crystal clearly how mistaken I had been. I saw how beautiful and true you are, and the insanity of acting against you. I saw your courage, and how much you have given up, in loving God, to love us. Thank you for loving me so much, even though I treated you so badly. Thank you for showing me The Mother in you. Thank you for showing me how hurt I was, and how wrong I was to lash out. Thank you for bringing me into gratitude.

I know that even now, it's still also my ego that wants to apologize. It's still my ego that wants to make nice, and make a show of acquiescence to win back your softness. I pray that you will see past the apology of my mind to the deep regret of my heart.

Thank you for all of this and more. I cannot say enough that I'm sorry. I truly love you. I commit myself never to act that way again, to you or anyone.

Kumara Jaya


I don't know what I can say about that letter. It hurts me to read it, and maybe that's a good thing. When I read it over, I can almost mean it again.

I cried over every word before I sent it. I wrote four or five drafts, and read them to my father and Acharya Rudra Das, asking for help to get it just right. I dug as far down deep in my soul as I could for sorrow, and poured all of it out on the keyboard. I uprooted every thought that maybe I hadn't acted wrongly, that maybe Ma wasn't right and perfect, and I filled their empty spaces with apology. I wrote that letter knowing I was dead wrong, and Ma was just right, and the best thing I could ever do for anyone was change. That's all good, I guess, but it's so self-negating, I don't know that it was healthy.

It's a funny thing to apologize when your apology is a foregone conclusion. Looking back on it, my intention may not have been so much to tell the truth as it was to write the best apology I could and then make it the truth.

I was in a lot of pain when I acted out, and this letter expresses no sympathy for that. I acted totally wrongly, of course, and I made a huge mistake, but I apologized without really acknowledging that I had (bad, insufficient) reasons for my actions. I tried to divorce myself from those reasons, instead of transcending them. I think that over the next few years or lifetimes, as I learn this story better, I'll be able to find a balanced place of real apology that addresses both the pain of that moment and the wrongness of how I expressed it (May it be the will of God).

I wrote another letter a while later. I'm not sure it's any better than the first one, but it captures an additional something important.


April 30th
Dear Mother,

Thank you for accepting and reading my letter. 

I've been feeling for some time that I still owe you one more email. My last one was about pain and gratitude and love, and it came from a place too volatile to talk about respect. What happened in Atlanta, and darshan since then, and some help from your acharyas, has all shown me that I still have important lessons to learn about respect. I think these are lessons to learn through practice. This is how I can fulfill the commitment I made never again to attack a holy teacher in anger. 

I also want to tell you that I have been davvening with tefillin and siddur since coming back here, and it has really sweetened my bond with God. Thank you for pushing me back to my own path. I had not been putting in the work to draw in God. 

Thank you again. I love you very much.

Kumara Jaya

The piece about respect is why I wrote the letter, but I should say something too about davvening with tefillin and siddur. (Davvening = praying. Tefillin is a Jewish ritual prayer object, and the siddur is the book of Jewish liturgy.)

That Friday night in Atlanta, Ma had told me I needed to practice in the way of my own tradition, and this would help me with my problems. It was difficult to do Jewish prayer at the Ashram - I always felt a big wet Hindu blanket hampering my progress whenever I tried - but I tried harder when I got back again, and it proved rewarding. At the same time that I was feeling raw and hurt and worthless around my violation of Ma, Jewish prayer made me feel warm and welcome and alive. I felt juiced and excited to be back on my own path again, instead of stumbling around Ma's.


I've tried to write out word for word what was said that Friday night in Atlanta, and the transcript really doesn't do the moment justice. Ma was teasing and poking me, very much on purpose, I think, for whatever reasons motivate Gurus. I raised my hand then put it down again, and she called on me anyway. I tried to speak and she cut me off, then told me to go, then cut me off again two or three times. She made small jokes that everyone laughed at while I was really, really uncomfortable. I'd been feeling that squeeze, that spiritual skin crawl, not quite fitting into the rhythm of her teaching. When I finally got to voice my question, I started with "Ma, I feel like I'm trying really hard - " and I was cut off with "You're not trying at all!" 

She told me I needed to practice in the way of my own tradition, and I said it was very hard, and she asked me if I thought it was supposed to be easy. I still didn't feel heard (big mistake, and a super big trigger for me) and I asked Ma if I could get angry at her, and she said no, you never get angry at your Guru. She told me I wanted my own personal Goddess, and I said I didn't think that was fair, I had worked on that, that I just needed a little help. She told me I couldn't have her all to myself and I shouted "I DON'T WANT YOU. I WANT GOD!!!!!" 

And that was it. Ma hugged me and loved me and kicked me out of the room. On Sunday she took all my pain away, and on Monday I drove back to Florida and found it again. On Tuesday I wrote that apology, and spent a week and change feeling terrible for what I had done. And then finally, on my birthday, Ma gave me exactly what I had asked for.

Hopefully I'll tell you all about that next time.


  1. But Yotam, you were right! That's why your soul was so upset and indignant. You are right. Your soul and the soul of anyone who seeks truth in truth wants GOD and not a god or goddess. Perhaps it should have been said in a different time or place, or tone. But I'm glad that you have the gumption to call a spade a spade. Ma may be a wonderful teacher, but it is not her right to humble your dedication to truth. Maybe take a look in the Tanach at how Hashem and the true prophets dealt with the false prophets. They were all powerful people saying nice things. And some of what they said was true. But they were false prophets. Be strong and courageous!

  2. By the one true G-d all true emotions are acceptable. Rebbe Nachman says staight out that we should bring our anger, our excuses and complaints to Hashem. They are all part of an honest relationship. Hashem can contain us. He just wants us to take our relationship with him seriously. And Anger is a sign of that. Look at midrash Tanchuma where Cain blames G-d for his sin of killing his brother, and because he keeps the conversation with G-d open he ends up getting a lighter punishment.