By Danion Vasile
Not long before that, I had listened to Swami Shivamurti, an initiated Indian master, Swami Satyananda’s disciple. In the late 1970’s she had been sent to Kalamata to impart yoga teachings to the Greeks. In 1984 she had set up ”the ashram”, a yoga monastery at Paiania, close to Athens. I met Swami Shivamurti in a private house where she had decided to see a limited number of yogis. I asked her if I could live an ascetic life in her ashram and she answered with much kindness that I certainly could. Although I wished she were a man looking like a traditional master – old, with a long white beard, and with a peaceful countenance – I decided to be her disciple and followed her to Bulgaria where she had been invited to give several conferences.
At some point, she assigned a yogic name to me, some sort of baptismal Indian name. Although I expected a famous name, like Mahashiva or Milarepa, I was given an apparently commonplace name: “Bhaktimurti”, meaning “the form of devotion”, “the form of piety.” In other words, for me the shortest path to illumination was worshipping someone – a deity or a cosmic power… So, I chose to worship Christ. I think that God had put the name of “Bhaktimurti” into Swami Shivamurti’s mind; even if she was not serving Him but the powers of darkness, God spoke through her just as He had spoken through Balaam’s donkey. Yet, I doubt it that she knew she had benefited me greatly by choosing that name for me.
I had made up my mind to join her ashram and she told me that she would definitely have me in it, but since I had not come of age I needed my father’s written consent. In Bulgaria, something of a great consequence for my future occurred… A yogi woman took me to some well-known churches in Sophia, one of which being a Russian church in whose basement there were the holy relics of Bishop Seraphim Sobolev, a wonder-worker. By his coffin there were small pieces of paper on which people were writing their wishes and prayers to the deceased pious hierarch. I stood by the coffin and entreated him with all my heart to help me. I said to him,
”Help me that not my will be done but that God’s will be done with me!”
In those moments, I felt that something did change, something that I cannot even put into words. At the time that I was practising yoga, I felt sick whenever I walked into a church; it seemed to me there was no air at all and I could not breathe; besides, I could not stand the liturgical services except with very great difficulty… However, there in that Russian church which housed the bishop’s relics, it was as if a fog was lifting from me. Although he has not been canonized, people worship him as if he were a saint.
I came back to Romania terribly excited about my oncoming trip to Greece. My father gave me permission to go to Greece because he knew I had no intention to graduate from high school anyway. The class mistress begged me to come to school so that the teachers would see me and give me a pass lest I would fail to get me removed, but all I was interested in was how to make progress as a yogi. In fact, even when I used to go to school yoga was my only concern. School studies seemed such a waste! Although I was attending the Computer Science High School, which was the best in Bucharest at that time, and although I was very proud to have passed the entrance test – after all, I had been captivated by computer science all my life – yoga was my great big passion. It had subjugated me so completely that I could not concentrate on anything except for asana and meditation techniques. In all honesty, I had been brainwashed into thinking that I could only read and study yoga materials – nothing else but that.
The departure date was getting near. I had made up my mind that before reaching the ashram, which was near Athens, I would visit Mount Athos where, I had heard, the holy fathers were practising the Jesus Prayer. I wanted to be initiated into the practice of the Jesus Prayer too… My father suggested we should call on Father Constantin Galeriu, a well-known priest in Bucharest, who had suffered for Christ in communist prisons.
Father Galeriu sent me to Father Ilie Cleopa of the Sihastria Monastery in Moldavia, which suited me perfectly since I was already thinking about visiting some monasteries to see how monastic obedience was practiced – as a sort of preparatory stage before the ashram. However, Father Cleopa was so adamantly opposed to the yoga practices and my relationships with the monks at Sihastria were so tense because of their disapproval of my being a yogi that I left the monastery after a very short stay.
After I had returned to Bucharest I joined another New Age spiritual group, called ”The Alliance for Spiritual Integration in the Absolute”, which combined Orthodox teachings with spiritualistic teachings and taught people to see auras, angels and whatever else had to do with the so-called spiritual world. In fact, all they did was make people fall prey to demonic deceit, for the devil can sometimes appear as a good angel too… In this new group, the devil could work much more efficiently than in the yoga group, or, to put it differently, he was much more visible. While practicing yoga, one can visualize the spiritual world only after many years, in this group, one could see it on the spot… Although I, for one, did not actually see many paranormal things, I had the power to make others see them; all I had to do was put my hands on top of their heads, say a prayer, and they began to see things right away…
At school, I even initiated a class in acquiring paranormal powers… We would get together in the festivity hall and do our paranormal studies there. Going camping at one time, I taught most of the children that I met there to see the spiritual world… I had no way of knowing that what they saw was coming from self-suggestion or demonic influences. At camp, I wanted to see if I could hypnotize anyone. I tried and… I did succeed. It was easy, much easier than I expected…
One of the instances that made me think about what I was doing was my meeting with a hieromonk. The people in the New Age group had convinced me that there was no point in my going to Greece to be a disciple of Swami Shivamurti Saraswati; in a female monastic community of our country, there was a priest, a saintly man who was a reincarnation of Saint John the Evangelist. I wished to see “Saint John” with my own eyes, so I went to the monastery together with my girlfriend and tantra yoga companion, who was twenty-four. I was almost eighteen. As we approached the monastery fence, we saw the reverend father standing next to the fence, as if he had been waiting for us. He asked us,
“You are yogis, aren’t you? Go away, you, lost souls! Here is a monastery and this ground is sacred… What are you doing here? Who has heard of such a thing – boys and girls coming together to a monastery…? You, sinners, aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? How dare you come here, of all places? You, followers of Steiner, theosophists and God only knows what else…”,
he muttered, entering the building that housed the monastic cells. My girlfriend had indeed read many of Rudolf Steiner’s writings and other theosophical works. The reverend father could see right through us… Only later did I understand why he had scolded us for having come together to the monastery – he was referring to the fact that we were lovers, but at the time I had no idea that what we were doing was fornication and that it was a sin.
My girlfriend and I stepped inside the church, thinking that he would not chase us out of there. When he entered the church, he pointed his finger at us and asked us,
“You believe in reincarnation, don’t you?” –
“Yes,” I answered, being convinced that I had to stand up for the truth in front of Christians who were not familiar with the truth. Then, he added,
“And you think that I am John the Evangelist, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I answered with conviction.
“Get out, you lost souls! Here is the House of the Lord, and if you do not renounce your madness it means that you do not belong here!”
I did not expect him to drive us out of the church. I knew that both the Christian tradition and the Oriental tradition demanded that the patience of the disciple should be put to the test in the most unexpected ways, so I was not going to give in. My girlfriend, who was older, felt bad at hearing the priest’s rebuke and burst into tears…
It would have been natural that I should be converted to the Orthodox faith right then and there… My friends from the “New Alliance” group had repeatedly told me that before accepting me as his secret disciple, the priest would put me to a very difficult test indeed and I thought it was all a trial. Having been manipulated and indoctrinated through and through, I did not realize that the reverend father really meant what he said.
We returned to Bucharest, but my wish to see that priest again was getting stronger by the minute. I went back to the monastery and he asked me to choose between the Church teachings and the New Age teachings I had formerly believed in. I refused to let go of my erroneous spiritual commitments and I decided to take off on a pilgrimage to the Moldavian monasteries. A strange thing happened to me at the Sihla Skete. While I was standing in front of a monastic cell with the Bible in my hand, a priest came up to me and asked me to read a certain passage to him; his hair and beard were white and he had a gentle face; in the passage, it said that heretics would be punished for their erroneous ways. Then the priest walked away and I thought,
“Yes, heretics would be punished, that’s for sure, but why did he ask me, of all people, to read that passage? Does that mean I am a heretic?”
Close to the Sihla Skete there is a cave where Saint Teodora lived the harsh, ascetic life of a hermit; ravens were providing for her, carrying food to her in their beaks. I wanted to spend a night in that cave, pray there, and ask God to help me choose the right path. The monastery abbot gave me his blessing, so one night I started making for the cave. On the way through the forest, I heard all sorts of strange noises. Someone had told me that three years before a man was eating raspberries from a bush and on the other side of the bush there was a big bear… I could not wait to reach the cave where I thought it would be nice and peaceful; during the day, I had gone there several times to pray and it had been so quiet…
Yet this time it was not so at all… That night was going to be the most awful night of my life… I thought I would stay up all night and say the Jesus Prayer, but the temptations came very fast. First, there were the bats – many bats flying so close to me, flapping their wings, that I felt the cold draught of air made by those dreadful wings blow right into my face. I was scared stiff and I felt sick. I was afraid one of those bats would try to cling to my hair. Although I had had my head shaved a year before in order to look like a true yogi, my hair had grown in the meantime, so I covered my head with my leather coat to keep the bats off. At some point, I thought that maybe God wanted to punish me for my sins and I uncovered my head, but the bats did not touch it… After a while, there was another temptation: mice started climbing my boots.
It was a terrible feeling… Some of the people who had been in that cave before told me that there were no bats and no mice in it, but I saw them… On the other hand, perhaps what I saw was a demonic sight… It was so difficult to tell…
Part Four will be published tomorrow.