Bearing witness to spiritual revelation
Even before I was one year old, sitting in the lap of my father in front of our fireplace, warmth coming from within and from without, I knew who I was. I was conscious of myself, knowing myself as the timeless awareness that I always am. Completely calm I enjoyed my present state as a baby, fully conscious of all things around me, knowing it all without fail. Awakened by the tranquility and peace of the situation this clarity never left me. Growing up I did have the memory of this first impression of mine but failed to recognize its significance. As a teenager I had a vision; I was falling in space but no matter where I fell I couldn't fall out of the universe. That funnily enough took away all fear. Intimations of being part of something completely whole. It wasn't until I met Andrew Cohen that this fully awakened in my consciousness and I became fully aware of our true spiritual nature. Now since many years of learning through trial and error, I once again cherish this embodied vision that my less than one year old body and mind had back then.
At night in a dream, the telephone rings and my sister pick up. My body goes into convulsions, electrified I know who it is. I hear my sister answer “yes he is”. "It’s for you" she says and holds the phone out for me. It can’t be true, it can’t be happening I think. I can hardly hold myself together, my inside expanding to breaking point. As I put the phone to my ear, a voice says “hello”. Unable to compose myself I explode upon hearing it. My whole being exploded and I woke up. For weeks I was walking on clouds, elated and full of joy. God had called me on the phone.
As a teenager I remember wanting to understand the Truth for myself. At 22 years of age I left home and traveled to Asia, my spiritual journey beginning in earnest. I sat down on the trans-Siberian railway and opened C.G. Jung's autobiography. For five years I traveled, studied, read and meditated my way around Asia. Glimpsing at times unknown spiritual realms, spurring me on in my quest to come to an absolute understanding of myself. In January 1991 while I was in Bodhgaya in India to do a Vipassana Thai Buddhist meditation retreat I ran into one of Andrew Cohen's students.
I had seen this group of Westerners setting up a large tent in the field behind the Bank of India in Bodhgaya, northern India. When I was in the bank withdrawing cash I asked the girl next to me if she knew anything about it? She said she belonged to them as a student of Andrew Cohen, an American spiritual teacher, and she said that he was enlightened! Oh really? I thought, intrigued. She welcomed me to join them for satsang (teaching) at the nearby guesthouse in the evening. When Andrew walked down the stairs my imagination of meeting an old Indian guru with a long white beard was broken. Here was this young American from New York, non-apologetic and confident. When he had sat down he began by saying he only wanted to speak about enlightenment and was happy to take any questions regarding that and that alone. I was kind of rocked because I had never heard anyone speak in such a straightforward manner about the goal of the spiritual life. I had listened to many sermons of the blessings of the spiritual life, of practice and meditation, read about truth and love and so forth but never had I heard anyone speak about the goal with such directness. He meant business. I perked up my ears and was on the edge of my seat (of my pillow on the floor). Andrew began by saying that anyone can be free if they really want to, here and now. I had been struggling quite a while with my own progress or lack thereof and felt frustrated and disillusioned with my own capacity to be able to pull it off. So now when I heard of a possibility to finish it sooner rather than later I jumped at the chance. Relieved that I might not have to spend the next twenty years in meditation retreats. I asked him "what do I have to do?" Andrew said wanting to be free has to be more important than anything else. He told me that I have to give up my past and I have to give up my future.
My first impression of Andrew was like meeting a Zen master. He was direct and confident but his confidence didn't stem from arrogance. It was as if he was seated in the reality he spoke of. It was like listening to a foreign language. I could not understand what he was talking about but it rang true in my heart. I figured he knew what he was talking about and I was sure he wasn't mad because everything he said made sense deep inside of me and that made me trust him. I had come to Bodhgaya to do a meditation retreat and now I had to make a choice of where to spend my time. So I asked Andrew what would benefit me the most, to go to the meditation retreat or to stay with him? "To stay here of course!" he answered immediately. I happily complied.
Walking home at night I pondered what he had said to me; give up your past and give up your future. I approached it like I would with homework. I sat down and went through all things that belonged to my past. As I went over them one by one I had to weigh them against my possible freedom, to see if I could give them up in favor of freedom. The past was well known to me while my freedom totally unknown. This made it scary but I knew that spiritual freedom, the highest goal in life, must outweigh any personal sacrifice. It just had to. God, truth and love couldn't be outmatched by anything I personally could throw up. One by one I discarded my past life; my country, my work, my mother, my father, my sisters, my friends. Some were easy and some very difficult to surrender but knowing I had to make a definite choice freedom always loomed high above. I knew my loved ones would understand. How can we deny God? Having dealt with my past I followed the same procedure with my future. There were fewer things there but bigger attachments. I managed to give them up but when I came to my biggest investment I got really scared. If I let go of this I'll be nobody! That was scary; to be nobody in this world.
I told Andrew that I had to have this spiritual freedom and he asked why? I said because nothing else would ever satisfy me. No amount of money, no woman, no worldly success, would ever be enough to fulfill me unless I found what I was looking for. This I had known for a few years already and I was dying to find it. I knew my life would be worthless without it. So now when Andrew offered it freely I jumped at it, not knowing what a ride I was in for.
This was the first time Andrew had returned to India to hold satsang since he had been fully awakened while spending time with Sri Poonja-ji in Lucknow in 1986. He was staying in Bodhgaya for five weeks teaching every evening. Bodhgaya is the little dusty town where the Buddha had his grand awakening 2500 years ago. An offspring of the original tree under which he sat still casts shade over the stupa erected in his memory. As the days were passed in contemplation and ease the evenings were filled with questions and answers. Slowly things started to happen. Insights fell in broad daylight. Something was working inside and resulted in visions and realizations of a nature I had never before experienced. I was pushing for understanding. Andrew said I had too many ideas of what I thought enlightenment was. Like a good schoolboy this was my next homework. I went home resolute to find out exactly what they were. I started to write down what I thought enlightenment was and what it meant.
I stayed in the Burmese Vihar (temple) in a small monks room, barely fitting my bed alone. I loved it, living my ascetic dream. As Bodhgaya is a major Buddhist pilgrimage spot all Buddhist countries have their own temple and many serve as guesthouses as well. As I looked at my ideas I slowly realized that I thought enlightenment was a rest, an end of the struggle, just as a sprinter can relax as he crosses the finish line. I thought it was a safe place where I could find peace. Then out of the blue I saw Jesus Christ on the cross. It wasn't safe at all! They had nailed him on the cross and he hadn't resisted it. I realized then that freedom meant total vulnerability, no security whatsoever. I told Andrew the next day and he was glad and slightly surprised.
Sitting waiting for the evening satsang session to begin I looked at the people present feeling I knew all of them. I wondered why and suddenly I saw; they were all me. I was the only one in the room. This was so crazy, so funny I could almost not believe it. After the teachings were over we all sat very quiet taking in what Andrew had poured out on us. Again I was looking at everybody and felt a genuine love for everyone there and I felt a deep gratitude for being part of what was taking place. I had never felt such a love and gratitude in my whole life before. It was so beautiful.
During daytime while in the market I came along Andrew together with his male students having chai (tea) and he smiled at me saying these where his men. I sat down at the end of the table and watched the group. I saw something I never before seen; they where all of one being and at the same time they where independent. Like lions, standing alone yet together. Another day when I came to the satsang hall and entered the compound it was as if I entered a field of love, a palpable tangible sense of blessedness and peace. Again, I had never experienced such a thing.
Then came the day that would be the end of my search and the beginning of a new life. Maybe a week after my first meeting Andrew I was strolling around the main stupa when suddenly I saw and understood: "I have always been free and I have always known it". This seeing was so subtle and so fine I almost forgot it. But in the day that came I recalled it clearly. I looked back on my life and realized that I had always enjoyed this natural freedom. This seeing came from far behind me and as I looked through my eyes I saw that this world is nothing but a dream. Listening to Andrew in satsang in the evening suddenly I realized I understood what he was speaking about. That's when I remembered everything clearly what had happened the day before, "I had always been free and I had always enjoyed this natural freedom". This mystified me as why then had I been seeking? So I searched in my memory to see if it was true. I looked back on when I was five years old, when I had been ten and when I had been 15 years of age and at every instance I found I had been free. "There never had been any obstacles, there are no obstacles and there never will be any obstacles". It was so easy, so simple. I was full of joy. When I recollected the event and remembered the view I had had, I saw that I'd seen the scenery in front of my eyes just I as I do now but the seeing itself was coming from a limitless depth behind my eyes. I who saw was out of this world, out of time, seeing through my eyes, into this world, into a world that was a dream, a phantasm. This was such a gem! I wondered why I had almost missed it, why it hadn't been obvious at the time it happened? So I looked at the event again and saw that the view wasn't anything other than this everyday vision I have every day, here and now (and as you have right now too). That was why I hadn't recognized it immediately, because it is this ordinary view that we have all the time. Nothing had changed, nothing happened, there was no "experience". The seeing had just been there when understanding came. But the understanding cleared the veils of wrongly identifying with my historical person. This really blew me away, that this is our everyday seeing, right now as I write this. Nothing extraordinary, just plain normal. I just saw my true nature, my real self, my timeless spirit.
One night walking home after Satsang suddenly another insight; I saw clearly that I had never met Andrew. Astonishing, all prior events to my present moment had not occurred. Time itself was usurped. I laughed out loud at the predicament. All events leading up to my conscious present experience, all history, was clearly seen as having never existed at all. Time as a reference was nullified. How extraordinary!
Over dinner while speaking to a friend about freedom I suddenly realized that in any given moment I have the choice to choose freedom. I told Andrew and he said: "That's it, that's my fundamental teaching!" I saw how my reactions could be too fast for me to stop them in time. "That's why the Buddha spoke of mindfulness" he said and that's why one would have a Guru. I was afraid. Did I need one?
With these new eyes I could understand where Andrew was coming from but he challenged me and I shakily stood by my experience. Doubts would harass me daily but over time I started to understand them. Andrew asked me to stay until the end as he needed more time to get through to me. I extended my Indian visa and postponed my departure flight. The weeks passed and it got time for Andrew to leave. The night before he left, I woke up at two o'clock in the morning into a realization: Life was celebrating life itself. A joyous dance for itself. It turned into love. All-love penetrated and pervaded all things, all mankind and all nature. Love is truth and truth is love. Nature was a never-ending spring, gushing forth new life incessantly. Man and woman in cosmic sexual embrace. Suddenly a vision appears before me; flowers and leaves falling slowly over me from a clear darkblue night-sky. So beautiful I look up. Then an explosion that rocked the very bottom of my being. I exploded and the whole universe exploded from deep within, opening a rift in the firmament for a split second. An opening, a chasm revealing another universe beyond. I gasped as it was so so big. I woke up and started to write it down but later tore it all up. I didn't want to spoil my gem.
Andrew left town and the gang split up. I headed for Delhi to fly out. Meditating in my dormitory recalling my already free nature, bliss was enveloping me, peace flowing through me into the room, knowing it would touch anyone close by. Someone walked in and sat down waiting for me to end. As I looked up she asked me how I did that. I could only say it wasn't me and that I had met Andrew the week before. I flew to Thailand to hang out on the beach with a few friends. Speaking about Andrew to my friend, she opened her heart and we spoke of her doubts. Suddenly she held her face, tears flowing, saying she knew she was free. How amazing all this was. It revealed to me that nothing is more satisfying than to share this truth. Later in her dream, standing on the beach, she too, exploded from within. How could I ever explain the beauty I have seen? Who will ever know this secret you bestow? Thank you Andrew. How can I ever repay your gift? I owe you life. The day you set me free even though you didn't do a thing and neither did I, will forever be in my mind as the day my life began.
Giving up a private life.
I spent the next year in Japan, digesting and contemplating the teachings. My head felt like full of pennies that slowly kept dropping one by one into the heart, making me understand different aspects to the truth. The following two years I went back to see Andrew in Bodhgaya during his annual winter retreats.
After one year in Japan I was eager to meet Andrew again to speak to him about everything I had understood. Before I could meet him privately he asked me to speak with him in the teachings in the evening. That was daunting as I was nervous to speak in public about these very personal thoughts. There was a text ("Be like a strong tree that cannot be moved") in his latest book "Enlightenment is a Secret" that spoke to me intimately so I started our conversation by reading that out aloud. That turned into this beautiful dialogue between us and at one point something else took over; it was as if a tunnel of light was created between us and our words flowed effortlessly back and forth. I was stunned as I watched and heard myself speak this clear language using words I didn't even know I knew, declaring the choicelessness of this choice of freedom. My passion was released. The next day I got to see him privately. As I told him about everything I had learned since last year he nodded and said "yes, that's good" but, he said smiling "there's more!" What? What more? How could there be more? This is it, this is everything. Everything is here and now! I thought. He saw my doubt on my face and said again "Bjorn, there's more". I didn't understand and as I walked out into the beautiful countryside of rural India I wasn't going to get too hung up about any little thing. I was on top of my world.
One morning as we had gathered in the big tent for meditation Andrew started to talk and it turned into this beautiful incredibly powerful sermon (captured on tape it was named "Out of the Swamp"). We were all stunned. I remember walking out of the tent in semi shock, thinking this is unbelievable, this can't be happening, not here, not now, not to me. But I knew it was true; I had heard Jesus Christ speak.
I was impressed by the change in his students from one year to another. They seemed to mature real fast. This intrigued me and I became interested in his community and wondered what was going on in that growing gathering. I had never been interested in spiritual communities before, choosing to go my own way. There is the Buddhist fundamental concept of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; the triple gem, meaning the fully awakened teacher, the teaching and the community or fellowship. I was aware that I happily avoided the third part. But slowly I became drawn towards it. Andrew exerted this distant relentless pull like a magnet to my soul. This involved my whole personal world and I had to deal with the toughest choices in my life, my marriage and my family, and finally there came a point where I had to leave it all behind.
Coming home from work one day I was hit as from lightning from a clear sky. My life was too small! I had set myself up, wonderful wife, pretty house, good job, all my dreams fulfilled. I stood there on an empty country road knowing my idyllic existence would come crashing down. Something much much bigger was calling. It was as if a bomb had been placed in my arms knowing when I drop it it would destroy my world. It was just a matter of time. In my heart Andrew was calling me to give up my personal life and join his worldwide growing community. This was something totally new and frightening. At the next summer retreat in the Swiss Alps it came to a head. I was going to give up everything I knew and had, and this led to some incredible experiences. A vision; a large cloud descending onto earth, lit up from within, a voice coming from it; "do you want to take part?" How can you say no to God? I saw myself as a lamb being lifted up by strong arms and carried away to slaughter, my throat going to be slit as a matter of course. I saw myself being flung out of this solar system, away from this planet, leaving everyone and everything behind. I was so happy I wanted to scream, to shout with joy. I had never wanted anything else. This was the monk's life; homeless and free.
We cried for three days straight, me and my wife. It shocked me to the heart when it finally hit home that I couldn't take anyone with me. Within a few months we had packed up and flew to California where Andrew lived. A new life awaited with many years of learning, hardships and blessings. Learning that life is not about you, hardships when confronting the ego and blessings in communion.
Giving up self.
The life in the community became a tug of war between Andrew and me. His relentless call to give everything pushed me to leave twice. Too immature to understand the demands of genuine spiritual life I opted to bail out when the going got tough. But I came back. I knew that we had unfinished business to take care of. I knew that I still hadn't surrendered my life to him. I had given up everything in my life to be with him but was still was holding back the ultimate sacrifice; my self. This would take two years of serious thought and much soul searching to come to terms with. All doubts lifted when I saw clearly that Andrew only wanted me to be free and nothing else. I was now going to give him my life.
We had all come to Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas, for the winter retreat. I was full of confidence as I had decided that this would be the place where I handed him my life. The two weeks were filled with unbelievable events, experiences relating to surrender filled my heart and I was coming to an end. One early morning as a few of us were chanting together I experienced that my spoken words turned into flames, the letters I read caught fire. In my whole inside there was a wild fire burning, coming out of my eyes and out of my mouth. This raging fire would burn anything in its wake. I found Andrew communicating directly into my heart as white heat filled my chest. Andrew gave me a treasure to safe keep. To honor this treasure was to be true to it, wanting to keep it pure. In the last days Andrew met with us and he straight away asked me what had happened. My inside was about to erupt; he knew what was happening, so I blurted out, you already know it! With his sweet smile he still asked me softly if I wouldn't mind telling us a little. I could only shake my head, as it was too precious, too tender to speak. Then he asked me what I was going to do and I thought, but you know, my life is yours. He insisted and at last I understood that he needed me to speak it out, to say it, so it becomes real, not just a silent understanding. I said; my life is yours! And as I spoke I felt as if I was handing him my life with my hands, and just as I let it go into his hands, he gave it straight back to me. That took me totally by surprise. He handed it right back to me, not hesitating one second. What a lesson, what a secret, what a wonderful truth; he never wanted my life, but in order for him to give it to me, I had to give it to him first. It all made perfect sense. Afterward as I walked down to the river the saying in the Bible came to me; "and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever". I looked upriver and saw my future stretch out into infinity, wide open.
Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
I had presumed that surrendering to Andrew automatically meant that I would join his community, so that was what I had decided to do prior to the giving up of myself. Now Andrew asked me again what I meant to do. I said I wanted to be his student proper. He said to go and think it over but I had already made my mind up. I wanted to prove to myself and prove to Andrew that I actually could pull it off.
Long before meeting Andrew I had been interested to learn about the major players in the spiritual world; Krishna, the Buddha and Jesus, as well as lesser known spiritual lights like Ramana Maharshi, Anandamayi Ma, the Christian saints, various gurus and also the learn about the different teachings coming out these extraordinary people and cultures, like Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity and Islam and Sufism to some extent. I wanted to understand and I wanted to understand their differences. I always tried to look at each one separate to see it from their vantage point. Not to look at one from the other. From early on Jesus has always stood out as an extraordinary man to me. His life cannot simply be ignored. Especially if one claims to be interested in truth. He was always only a hands reach away, never far from my vision. He followed me through all these years of seeking and finding. His example stood out as an undeniable measuring point whenever I wanted to assess my "progress", and never did I measure up. He held out a promise that made me strive for more, wanting to come to a complete understanding of him and of his mysteries, and of his significance throughout our history, his impact and his living legacy. Through my years in Andrews community this never left me and I would from time to time speak excitedly about the incredible truths of Jesus to my not so bemused brothers. Thanks to the insights I gained while being with Andrew I started to understand much of other religions and I started to understand what Jesus was about. The last unresolved question I harbored was about the true meaning of this life in the flesh, and what was the meaning of Jesus resurrection into a glorified body. I wanted to understand what that meant. I thought if I don't understand that I will not be able to understand Jesus true significance. I knew I had to pursue this enquiry all by myself, unsupported by anyone, even Andrew. This happened before I came to a full surrender to him. We were in Rishikesh for the annual winter retreat, two full weeks by the river Ganges in northern India. A beautiful location right in the foothills of the Himalayas. I had decided to leave Andrew and the community after the retreat was over and travel upriver into the mountains to find a place for solitary contemplation by myself for a few months to resolve these lingering question marks.
Resurrection and the meaning of life.
Hiking into the foothills of the Himalayas I strode in through a small gate leading to a small clearing by the Ganges river, a small Ashram consisting of only a few huts for solitary contemplation, prayer and meditation run by a British woman sadhu named Nani Ma. Me and my two friends walked into an atmosphere of heightened spiritual tension. There was a palpable sense of love and deep laying wisdom surrounding the place. We were expected and Nani Ma sat us down on a patch of grass next to the river and asked us our intention for our stay in the ashram. By this time my inner world was churning up, something was taken place that was beyond my comprehension but I loved it. The inner tension kept constant and our dialogue was almost as a quiet background to it. We were allowed to stay and we were shown our individual huts where we would live.
The next three months was just wonderful. Nestled among the peaks at about 10.000 feet altitude, the river running rapidly through narrow gorges, clean and drinkable, cool and refreshing for early morning baths, beautiful with green glacial waters. Here I read the Bible, meditated and chanted together with Nani Ma and just had time to think.
One morning I found myself naturally falling into a spontaneous contemplation. Sitting outside my little hut enjoying the morning sun. A softness fell over me and I understood that "I have sole responsibility for the well-being of every single person and that I have sole responsibility for the welfare of the whole planet". Suddenly I dissolved, me as a historic person vanished and instead I was filled with glorious white light. I regained my body and I regained my voice, my real body, and my real voice. I started to praise all things, my voice no longer impeded but full and unobstructed. White light was everywhere. Now I saw what Jesus meant with "me and my father are one" and "but my father is bigger than me". This was resurrection into a glorified body. This was Holy and this was only by Gods Mercy. The ground I sat on became my closest ally, so close like my pillow, like my bed. The whole earth supported me and bore witness to what was happening.
My time in Andrews community was coming to an end. On and off for twelve years, pursuing my own spiritual questions at times and learning and participating in Andrews never ending exploration of the emergence of communal consciousness among his students worldwide. Personally I felt complete in my surrender to Andrew and I wanted to move on. He is my own Self but my heart wasn't in the community anymore. I was looking for a steadfast relationship and after a pretty messy affair found myself alone and longed for community in spirit. I did the Alpha Course, the 10-week introduction course into Christianity. I loved it. They didn't have to convince me of anything. Jesus had been my muse for a long time. It was like an open door into a living church. I got baptized full immersion and for the first time could feel I was a real follower of Jesus. It gave me a sound and real foundation and context for my life in the spirit. Some years earlier while in Andrews community it had dawned on me that Jesus is the Messiah. This I never really questioned but this affirmation was so strong and vivid it jolted me upright. Since being baptized my life has been filled with joy and things are working out mysteriously as my prayers are being answered. It brings my life to completion and promises a life in abundance.