Go Forward: Letters of Swami Premeshananda
My friend JoAnne Rowley offered me this book roughly 8 years ago. Slowly, sometimes a paragraph at a time, I have read it. It has a great title, and a lovely picture of the swami on the frontispiece, with a shy, potbellied smile and googly eyes. I always read introductions last, so I put off "The Life of Swami Premeshananda" till I'd finished the book. Which was perhaps a mistake, because the swami's life is winning. (As a lost youth, he almost attempted suicide:
Pointing to a rope in his retreat room he said, "I kept this noose here in order to put an end to this joyless life last night, but my heart became filled with peace and bliss through Mother's grace, and a wonderful song to the Mother flowed forth from my heart."
) The problem with Go Forward is writing itself. Yoga discourse is oral improvisation. It's quite similar to jazz (or freestyle rapping). Picking up the pen ruins the "flow" (Sanskrit term: rasa). The swami's letters are much too formal, with constant imprecations to read the Bhagavad-Gita, like a Baptist minister hectoring his congregants to study the Book of Matthew.
What I love about yoga is the stories. Here's one:
One day Thakur was going to the home of a devotee in Calcutta by horse-drawn carriage. He saw a girl standing on the second floor of a building and, with hands folded in salutation, said to her, "Mother, you dwell in this form as well." The girl was a prostitute.
Nice anecdote, but it sort of peters out, don't you think? Maybe the swami's fighting the tendency of yogis to tell endless tales. He represents a serious impulse -- he is professionalizing yoga. (Premeshananda lived from 1884 to 1967, spending much of his life complaining about his health*.) Thakur is Ramakrishna, the founder of his order.
Looking through Go Forward, though, I do find notable lines like:
One can improve one's memory by taking nourishing food.
"Time is the price" we must pay for real progress in the inner world.
But I would much rather hang out with the swami, and listen to him make jokes about the nuns. As the sadhu himself wrote:
Pen, ink, paper, blotter, table, and chair -- to write a letter these six things are necessary. But one can speak by merely moving his tongue up and down in his mouth. How much zeal one receives from the charming face of the listener!
*A typical kvetch,from Sargachi, 28.1.57: "The constitution of Bengalis is very poor, and on top of that I have become old."
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