The year of 1980 was a turning point in my life. In the summer of 1980 the social unrest in Turkey was getting out of control. On September 12, 1980 the military took over the government promising to end the conflict between the ultra-nationalists and the socialists. People were initially hopeful and thought that the bloodshed would be over. What followed was actually worse than the previous chaos. It turned out that the main goal of the military takeover was to crush the socialist movement and it did. Between 1980 and 1985, 50 people were executed by hanging, 300 people were found dead, 171 people died in police torture, 650 thousand people were arrested, 230 thousand people were tried in courts, 30 thousand people were fired from their jobs, 338 thousand people were denied passports, and 14 thousand people lost their Turkish citizenship.
During 1980-81, I was a senior in college working on a double major degree in physics and electrical engineering. I was not really interested in electrical engineering (EE) but my father wanted me to obtain a degree in EE. I could not say no. I wanted to please him. I never studied hard for the electrical engineering classes. I spent all my time learning physics and philosophy. I was also writing notes on Sufism and contemplating the evolution of souls. I even had some drawings describing the cosmic evolution.
I mentioned the political environment on the college campus prior to September 1980 in my other posts. Students discussed politics and philosophy constantly. In every room of the dormitory philosophical discussions were taking place every night. Even though I was surrounded by Marxists and Leninists I used to bring up the subject of Sufism occasionally. In the charged atmosphere of those days any philosophy outside of dialectic materialism was ridiculed. Sufism is indigenous to Anatolia. Nothing can be more natural than talking about Sufism in Istanbul but people were alienated to their own culture. Most of the students did not want to hear about Sufism.
Fortunately a friend was listening. He saw my writings and diagrams on the cosmic evolution. He kept saying that my theory was very similar to the Brahma Chakra theory which is the theory of creation in Tantra Yoga. He explained that Brahma Chakra is also known as the Cycle of Creation and Ananda Marga developed this theory even further. I had no idea what Ananda Marga was but I was intrigued. He explained that Ananda means bliss and Marga means path. So Ananda Marga means “Path of Bliss.” He said that Ananda Marga is an organization founded by the great spiritual teacher Shrii Shrii Anandamurti.
My friend knew that I grew up in a devout Muslim family and I would be skeptical about other spiritual paths. He did not mention that Ananda Marga was a way of life. He said that the teachings of Shrii Shrii Anandamurti were universal. He did not mention the “Transform Yourself, Transform Society” ideology of Ananda Marga either.
He emphasized the spiritual and philosophical aspects only. Today, Ananda Marga is more than a way of life. It is also a global network of yoga and meditation centers, schools, children’s homes, food distribution centers, disaster relief, medical centers and community development projects. In 1980, Ananda Marga was not known in Turkey.
In October 1980, in those tense and suspenseful days after the military takeover, I followed my friend to a small apartment in a poor neighborhood of Istanbul where the meditation teacher lived. In our first meeting we had some small talk in my broken English. Ananda Marga teachers come from all nationalities and this one was from India.
He spoke excellent English. My poor English was not a barrier for communication, however. He seemed to understand everything I said and I understood everything he said. There was a non-verbal, almost telepathic, communication between us.
He did not teach me meditation during my first visit. In my second visit I participated in their group meditation. This was my first introduction to kiirtan which is spiritual chanting and dancing. I thought kiirtan was very similar to the dances of the whirling dervishes. I felt spiritual ecstasy during my first kiirtan. I felt pure happiness.
In my third visit I asked to be initiated. The meditation teacher gave me a general mantra and asked me to repeat it in private contemplation. I did that for a week or so. After a few more visits I was initiated.
Teachers and volunteers of Ananda Marga are extraordinary people. The male teachers (monks) of Ananda Marga are addressed as Dada and female teachers (nuns) as Didi. Dada means brother and Didi means sister.
I saw saintly qualities in my meditation teacher. He reminded me of Rabindranath Tagore. He was a very refined person, very well educated. He came from a very cultured family. He had many psychic abilities as well but he always refrained from using them. For example, reading minds was very easy for him. We did not see each other after he returned to India in 1981 but I still remember his words of wisdom.
Initiation into meditation is a special milestone in the journey of the soul. The two people involved in that momentous event were probably destined to meet each other. Even as a young man I was fully conscious of the importance of initiation. I knew intuitively that it was a life-changing event.
There is nothing esoteric about initiation in terms of appearances. In Ananda Marga there is no test that you have to pass. Overcoming your prejudices is the biggest test. If you ask for initiation, if you want to learn meditation you already passed the test.
Each spiritual tradition follows their particular system regarding teacher training and individual instruction. There is not much to say about this process other than to say that during initiation a special bond is established between the spiritual teacher (murshid, guru) and the student. In my case, this meant that I accepted Shrii Shrii Anandamurti as my guru and he accepted me as a student. Shrii Shrii Anandamurti was not there physically, of course, but I felt very strongly that he was there spiritually. The meditation teacher who taught me the meditation technique had the most important role of being a conduit through which this spiritual connection was established.
After the initiation the guru takes responsibility for your spiritual development. I do not understand the true dimensions of this responsibility but I can sense that it involves a great sacrifice on the part of the guru.
It is a rare opportunity to be initiated when your guru is still alive and it is even rarer to be initiated by the guru directly. It is believed that even when the guru is not alive, the initiation will serve the same function in terms of establishing that special bond between the Universal Teacher and the student.
What I learned during my investigations is that there is only one Universal Teacher in the universe. All true teachers (gurus, murshids, and all the Self-realized human beings) are one with the Universal Teacher. They are different expressions of the same Universal Teacher.
After my initiation, I tried to absorb Ananda Marga teachings as much as possible. I saw a few books but I could not read them because my English was still not good enough. During those days I was visiting the meditation center every day and practicing long meditations. The center was not just about meditation. I enjoyed my new-found friendships more than meditation. I vividly remember the intense kiirtans and the breakfasts after the morning meditation in this small basement apartment.
Ananda Marga teaches meditation free of charge. The organizational activities of Ananda Marga are supported by donations. Budgets were very tight and it was difficult to pay the rent even in that poor neighborhood.
It is interesting that Shrii Shrii Anandamurti himself stayed in that very apartment in September 1979. I missed meeting him in Istanbul. I missed meeting him in the remaining years of his life. I could never go to India before he passed away in 1990.