Asha Praver's Monthly Letter
April 2007

Dear Friends,Asha Praver photo

At the end of last month I went to the East Coast for a few days to visit my oldest and youngest relatives—my father's brother Theodore, 91, and his wife Dorothy, and my sister's son Adam Nathan, 18. My aunt and uncle—for years residents of Washington, D.C.—now live a short train ride away in Delaware. My nephew is just finishing his freshman year at George Washington University, in downtown D.C.

I visited Washington when I was ten years old, but haven't been back since, so I was delighted when Nathan offered to take me on a walking tour of some of his favorite haunts, just blocks away from the University.

We started at the Lincoln Memorial, a glorious tribute to a great man. Then we made a tour of the three war memorials. First was in honor of the Korean War.

Soldiers Under Enemy Fire
In an area about the size of our back garden here at Chela Bhavan, a dozen or so realistically carved figures in silvery bronze, a little larger than life-size, depict a group of soldiers with tense and watchful eyes making their way across enemy territory. They are all in full war regalia, with packs on their backs, rifles in their hands, and rain parkas covering it all. Even their boot-laces are carefully replicated.

"To get the full effect," Nathan told me, "you really need to see it at night. The figures are illuminated from below. Their faces are so carefully etched, in the shadowy light you can read their thoughts in their eyes. Actually, it is a little scary," Nathan confessed. "You feel, as they must have felt, that at any moment a sniper could take your life. It makes you appreciate what those soldiers went through."

Even in the daylight, you could feel the courage of those men bravely following their commander across that distant field all those years ago.

In Defense of Freedom
From "Korea" we went to the monument to World War II. This is a huge piazza, with columned porticos at either end. Carved eagles and other patriotic symbols abound. Plus waterfalls and reflecting pools and the names of all the significant battles etched into stone. Also carved into the walls are excerpts from some of the most stirring and heartfelt speeches given at the time, praising liberty and urging citizens and soldiers alike to persevere until victory was achieved.

Even though I can't imagine myself picking up a rifle, I am not a pacifist, and these many brilliant spoken words moved me to my core. Schooled as I am in the Bhagavad Gita, I can appreciate the concept of "righteous war." Being from a Jewish family, the willingness of so many to fight so hard and to sacrifice so much to defeat Hitler has always inspired in me deep gratitude. One cannot help but be moved by heroism and sacrifice on such a grand scale.

Hitler and the Himalayan Masters
Everything in this world is a mixture of good and bad. Master made the fascinating statement that, in the beginning, there was still some question as to whether Hitler would use his power to serve the light or to serve the darkness. In 1936, when Master passed through Europe on his way to India, he tried to meet with Hitler, obviously hoping to tip the balance in favor of the light. But he was not able to arrange the meeting, and, well, the rest is history.

Master also said that the Masters of the Himalayas took a hand in defeating Hitler. It was their hidden influence, he said, that led Hitler to make the foolish decision to conduct the war on two fronts. Because of this error in judgment, his forces were spread too thin and greatly hastened his defeat.

Everything about the monument to World War II, reverberated with the honor and glory of war. Reading the stirring words of the great orators who led the Allied forces at that time, one could easily imagine how soldierly types would willingly engage again in such a seemingly noble enterprise as defending the cause of freedom in the world.

And, it is important to understand, that for some people the willingness to go to war, to give one's life for a cause one believes in, is an expansion of consciousness from mere self-concern. For others, nationalism is a step backward from embracing all of mankind as one's own.

As I said, nothing in this world is clear-cut. As Sri Yukteswar says in the Autobiography of a Yogi, "This world is inconveniently arranged for the literal practice of ahimsa [non-violence]."

There are planets, Master said, where all the inhabitants are on the same level of consciousness. Earth, however, is not one of them. Here it is a mixed bag. Many levels of soul development exist side-by-side. What is dharma [right action] for each one depends on individual karma. That's why political and social solutions are so hard to figure out.

Anyway, back to Washington, D.C.

A Stark Black Wall
From World War II, we moved on to the Vietnam Memorial.

Naturally, I have seen photos and even films about this monument, but nothing prepared me for the experience of actually being there.

The World War II monument is tasteful, but decorative in the extreme. The emphasis is on what you might call the glamor and romance of war.

There is nothing of that in the Vietnam Memorial. It is utterly stark. Everything has been stripped away except the enormous human cost of war.

Black marble slabs, trapezoidal in shape, varying from a few inches to a few feet in height, are lined up to make a wall. The names of everyone who died in the war are listed chronologically according to their date of death. There is an alphabetical guidebook at either end to help one locate whatever name one is seeking.

At the beginning of the wall, a few inches suffice to list all those who died. At the peak of the war, the list of names is several feet tall. Then the size of the slabs decline again, until the last name is carved on a piece of black marble just a few inches high.

There are no fountains, no reflecting pools, no carved eagles or liberty bells. No stirring words. Just names—and personal objects placed at the base of certain sections by those who wish to pay homage to names on that plaque.

This is a memorial to inspire people never to go to war again.

The Final Exam
At the same time, I reminded myself, death itself is not a tragedy. All who are born must die. Just a week earlier, in the children's play about the Buddha, this point was repeated again and again. Life is change. Only consciousness endures.

In most cases, the death of those soldiers caused pain to those who were left behind—a pain still palpable to me as I walked next to that black wall. But it does not mean that for the soldiers themselves their death was a tragedy.

Krishna speaks directly to this point in the Bhagavad Gita. Death is life's "final exam," Krishna says. Those who face death bravely on a literal battlefield or on the "battlefield of life," go to heavenly realms, meaning they advance in God-consciousness.

Still—the human experience is anguishing in the extreme.

But even this is, in the end, a blessing, for it provides the incentive to realize God, to transcend all suffering—one's own, and that which comes vicariously through the suffering of others. Certainly, the visit to the Vietnam Memorial was for me, a powerful spiritual incentive.

God Is In Charge
We are moving into a higher age of consciousness on this planet. From Kali Yuga (the age of Matter), to Dwapara Yuga (the age of Energy). Dwapara is an improvement on Kali, but not so advanced that war ceases to exist. For that we have to move all the way through both Dwapara and Treta Yuga (which comes after) and into Satya Yuga. Finally, in Satya, mankind is so elevated that war is not an option. Then, of course, the descending cycle sets in, and wars resume again.

In any case, the state of the planet is determined by cosmic forces beyond the influence of individual egos. Rather we choose to incarnate on whatever planet has the appropriate state of consciousness for the individual lessons we need to learn. It is our job to stand against evil and to be channels for good, for in this way, we help both ourselves and others to advance spiritually. And, perhaps, we may also influence society in a positive direction, if it is the karma of society to be so influenced.

Because we are in an ascending age, our path includes a determined effort to plant seeds of higher consciousness in a worldwide way. Even if now only a few are interested, as Dwapara Yuga progresses, Master predicted that his teachings will have an increasingly important influence. Swamiji's work especially has been to lay out a blueprint for a "Culture of Self-Realization," so that when society as a whole becomes interested, the guidelines will be there.

The Goal is Transcendence
In the play about Buddha, because it was performed by children, the philosophy was simplified, but the message was not diluted. Buddha was born the son of a wealthy king, destined to inherit that kingdom. At his birth, however, it was prophesied that he would either be a great king or a great renunciate.

Buddha's father did his best to keep his son satisfied with earthly pleasures. His son's destiny, however, was greater than all the efforts of his father to prevent it. When the young prince came face to face with the reality of human life—that life is change and all who are born must die—he renounced everything in search of the unchanging reality of Spirit.

These are truths that cannot be explained. They must be intuited by those who, as Jesus put it, have "ears to hear." The words of Jesus—and of Buddha, Krishna, and all the great ones—can be heard and read by many. But only those whose hearts long for something more than the obvious satisfactions of life hear the words of the Masters as a call to personal transformation.

Let us pray to God and Gurus, that just as those soldiers had the courage and devotion to give up their physical bodies when circumstances demanded it of them, we have the courage willingly to give up our egoic selves in the greatest cause of all: the realization of God.

In divine friendship,