The Art of Inner Transformation Prison Project
by Amanda Harkness
Listen to the audio below or read the article below.
Sat Chit Ananda Guru Ki Jay.
To cross paths with a Sadguru is no accident. In fact, each being that is blessed with such an occurrence, made the request for it, either in this life or in a previous life. Once the seeker makes the request to know God and to know their True Nature, the Sadguru brings them to him.
For those of us who are fortunate enough to live so close to our beloved Guruji, we must remember to never take for granted the privilege of being in his physical presence. So many devotees and disciples in our Sangham have made great strides in their Sadhana by keeping Satsang at our Guru’s feet and following his instruction.
The great sages of our lineage all speak of the importance of keeping the company of the Guru. In his book, The Perfect Relationship, Paramahamsa Muktananda tells us that “Satsang is the most sublime. It bears fruit instantly.” He goes on to share that as a result of Satsang, seekers have “washed away all their sins and, by hearing the great statements made during Satsang, have forever banished their doubts.”
Sadguru Kedarji speaks often about the importance of having Satsang at the Guru’s feet, also telling us that desire (for the Guru’s state), longing, devotion (Bhakti) and surrender are all cultivated by keeping the company of the Guru, outwardly and inwardly. Sadguru Kedarji tells us that “Surrender is everything; without surrender you cannot make permanent spiritual progress. Without your surrender of the false notions and tendencies that keep you bound, your effort at permanent transformation and true happiness will be fruitless. Without Surrender, the Guru cannot help you. If you’re not willing to surrender and take the Guru’s understanding over your own, how can you expect to make permanent spiritual progress? This is all about keeping your focus on what really matters.”
Even those who are unable to be in Sadguru Kedarji’s physical presence have made great strides in their Sadhana by simply recalling Kedarji’s form into their minds and remembering his utterances. In this way, they also experience Satsang with the Guru.
In 2015, following the will of his own Guru, Sadguru Kedarji began The Bhakta School Prison Project. This prison project has taken the form of a correspondence course and telephone interaction between Kedarji and inmates at the Stafford Creek Correctional Facility in Aberdeen Washington. There are currently five inmates participating, most of whom are serving time for murder, drug charges and arms dealing.
These five inmates gather together once each week to listen to Sadguru Kedarji’s talks on CD, read excerpts aloud from his books, and study his commentary on the Shri Guru Gita. They are also led in daily meditation and chanting by instruction given to them by Sadguru Kedarji. Other inmates are now attending these prison Satsangs, as well.
Even the constraints of prison walls cannot stop the Guru’s Grace from transforming those who are willing to surrender to the Guru’s instruction, and to remember the form of their Guru in the midst of their daily activities.
After listening to Sadguru Kedarji’s talks and applying the instruction in them to his daily prison life, one inmate shared that he’s experiencing Kedarji’s utterances like a nuclear bomb, nuking his ego. As he’s having these experiences, he’s able to apply our practice of Witness Consciousness Centering, a form of Shaktipat meditation, to observe the expansion of his witnessing awareness, and he has a strong sense that he is not the body and not the doer.
This inmate shares that, “I experience that when I tap into Sadguru Kedarji’s Grace in this way, I become very still, just observing with the sense that I don’t have to try, I can just be. I now know that Sadhana is everything and I no longer want to be the doer.”
This is a wonderful reminder to all of us, of Kedarji’s instruction and Grace that even an inmate behind prison walls can experience the benefit of, by going beyond the mind and beyond the senses to realize this phantasmagorical Play of the Divine, to realize, by Guru’s Grace, that God is the only player, the only actor, the only doer; the one, Universal Experient.
Another inmate was told about Sadguru Kedarji and our prison project. Intrigued, this inmate began reading Sadguru Kedarji’s spiritual autobiography, Vibration of Divine Consciousness. By the Guru’s Grace, this inmate began having dreams. In each dream, he found himself looking into a bush to find a beautiful garden.
When he looked into this bush, he saw several peacocks playing in that garden. One of the peacocks walked toward him, showed him its train of iridescent feathers, and then offered him a peacock feather. Not fully realizing it at the time, the inmate was being blessed. Peacock feathers are used as a vehicle for transmitting the Guru’s Shakti, and signifies Shaktipat, the transmission of the Grace-bestowing Power of God by the Sadguru.Later on, this same inmate had a relative visit him who shared with him a picture that was taken at a family gathering. Hanging on the wall behind his family members, was a picture of a peacock! It was then that the inmate made the request of Sadguru Kedarji for Shaktipat, now understanding the significance of what the peacock meant, and the message in these two occurrences.
Sadguru Kedarji teaches us that we should focus our Sadhana with the absolute intention of pleasing the Guru. We please the Guru by remembering and following his instruction and command. Whenever we do, we attract the protective Grace of Kedarji and our lineage of Sages. Then our beloved Guruji is always there for us. By taking total refuge in the Sadguru, we win this protective Grace.
This was put to the test recently by another inmate who participates in our Prison Project. He shared stories about the tremendous anger that he’s had since he was a young boy. This anger eventually led him to join the dangerous and criminal world of street gangs. His crimes eventually escalated to selling drugs and guns. One day, he got into a heated argument over an arms deal and shot the buyer dead, landing himself in prison.
Due to his involvement in our Prison Project, this inmate has been performing japa of the mantra given to him by Sadguru Kedarji. He has observed, as he continues performing japa, that his anger is disappearing.
Recently, this was tested during a prison brawl with another inmate who had threatened to put a hit on his young daughter and other family members. Sadguru Kedarji teaches us that even when we get caught up in fear, anger, or contracted emotions, we can reach for the Highest by recognizing these as tools to drive us back to Oneness with the Self. We can be fully present in each moment, in this way – fully present with God.
Rather than retaliating in anger and violence over these threats, this inmate reached for the Guru’s understanding, the Guru’s Mantra, the Guru’s Grace. He says that later, by Sadguru Kedarji’s Grace, the same inmate that had threatened his daughter and family members, apologized to him. So, he now feels very protected by Sadguru Kedarji’s Grace.
The root of courage is our willingness to embrace the practice we are taught to overcome fear – by taking total refuge in the Grace of the Living Master. As evident by the profound experience shares of these inmates, it doesn’t matter where you are or what your circumstances. You can experience the transformative power of the Grace of our Sadguru, by Satsang at the Guru’s feet – both inside and outside.
This group of inmates is now making a proposal to the warden of the prison to offer a monthly program, open to all inmates, regardless of religion or spiritual belief, to meditate and chant together, and to offer Sadguru Kedarji’s talks and passages from his books.
By Sadguru Kedarji’s Grace, the seeds of change and permanent spiritual progress are being planted in the growing spiritual community at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility.
Om Guru Om!
Sat Chit Ananda Guru Ki Jay!
Amanda Harkness works in the field of public health. She is also one of our trained program leaders who volunteers her time in various ways, including service on our Board of Directors.