October 16, 1992: Retreat at Snake Lake

While Maharaj was in the United States, he kindly consented to spend ten days at my parents’ secluded vacation place in rural Connecticut. Ever since our children were young, we had called it “Snake Lake” in honor of the snakes who used to sun themselves on the overflow of the small lake. It is a magical, peaceful retreat with a simple house, the spring-fed lake, and forest all around. Those of us who accompanied him were Ralph Singh, Rani, Gurdev Singh, and me. It was a rare private time, for otherwise Maharaj was always surrounded by people who wanted his blessings and guidance. My parents graciously made the place available for Maharaj’s private use. They themselves were not there.

Photos courtesy of Ralph Singh

Maharaj, Ralph, and Gurdev took long walks through the forest while Rani and I did housekeeping. Often, however, it was Gurdev Singh who pressed Maharaj’s cholas (his beautiful long dresses with many pleats and gathers—extremely difficult to press correctly). When I commented on this seeming gender reversal, Gurdev Singh nobly replied, “I am ready to do anything that is required for Maharaj’s mission.”

Maharaj always does havan (sacred fire) wherever he goes, as instructed by his renowned ascetic teacher, Baba Siri Chand (elder son of Guru Nanak, the First Sikh Guru). Our time at Snake Lake was no exception—Maharaj had us performing havan in the fireplace. Maharaj would sit in a big armchair in front of our makeshift holy place while we tended the fire, adding ghee (butter oil) and samagri (a mixture of aromatic herbs and grains) we had brought from India. According to Indian tradition, we had always we reverently waved Chaur Sahib (a sacred whisk of long animal hairs attached to a handle) over havan. Since we hadn’t brought a Chaur from India, I gathered some materials from the forest to make one for Maharaj—a bunch of hay-scented ferns tied to a long stick. When I presented this strange thing to Maharaj, he graciously did not laugh at my childish attempt to please him. As if it were an entirely normal thing to do, he coolly sat in the armchair waving the ferns-on-a-stick “Chaur” over the “havan,” while we sat around him reading Jaap Sahib (the non-sectarian, spiritually powerful hymn of God’s praises written by Guru Gobind Singh which we recite many times daily, as Maharaj has instructed us).

Makeshift or not, that havan was very powerful. One day as we were sitting there with Maharaj, a phone call came from my mother. She asked if Maharaj could please heal my Aunt Charlotte, who was near death in Illinois from cancer. Maharaj told me to stand near his chair and start throwing handfuls of til (black sesame seeds) into the fire until he would tell me to stop. As I did so, a tremendous, roaring power came forth. I kept throwing the til as long as that sound, light, and vibration were present. It seemed to me that no cancer cell in my aunt’s body could possibly survive the storm surge of spiritual power that Maharaj was evoking. Everything unwanted was being burned up, destroyed. Then as the huge spiritual storm began to die down, Maharaj told me to stop. My aunt came out of the critical phase and lived on for several more years.

On another occasion, when Maharaj was meditating before our fireplace-havan, he received a very important vision. He was given directions, which he passed on to us, about how his devotees should perform havan in their own homes. There should be a standing order for them to do havan and recite Jaap Sahib for one hour and fifteen minutes daily, without counting the number of Jaap Sahibs, “and then the blessings will be countless. Your demands will not even rise to your lips. He will fulfill them even before you speak. Even a dead body can come out of a coffin,” Maharaj said. These are the conditions he gave for proper conduct of such havans:

  1. The wood should be clean. There should be no insects, dirt, or nails in it. Each piece should be washed and dried before use.
  2. The fire of the havan must remain burning constantly for that period, even if the flame is as small as that of a candle.
  3. To normal samagri (as available in India) should be added these ingredients: desi ghee (natural clarified butter oil), rice, barley, black sesame seed, rye, natural brown sugar (boora khand), and a very small amount of sandalwood powder. No particular proportions were specified. If there is any special problem, more rye can be used.
  4. Ghee can be used to help keep the fire burning.
  5. Devotees should recite Jaap Sahib near the havan, vocally, in a loving, unhurried way.

I have a few precious photos taken by Ralph Singh during those cherished days at Snake Lake with Maharaj. In one of them, he is sitting at the table overlooking the lake, whose moods and reflections are ever-changing. Maharaj himself is subtly reflected in the window glass, as subtle as his wondrous presence that is always with those who love him, especially now that he has left his physical body.

In my diary there is only one entry from that time at Snake Lake, apparently because it was too magical for words. The entry is what I remembered from a talk that Maharaj gave to me there, with Ralph Singh translating. Maharaj said,

Don’t mind what people think of you. Think only of God. People will reject the Light. They always have. Very few will develop true inner compassion for those who suffer. This quality is very rare. It is found only in a few saints and sages. . . . God really loves those who know that it is God who is doing everything.