February 5, 2016 by Shindo
from Shindo's Shuso Blog
Her Symphony of Values website -- Her Facebook page
2011 SFZC India Slide Show page with Shindo and DC
DC comment below
This person, Shindo Gita Gayatri was born in a small industrial city in South India called Coimbatore. A City with many cotton industries. Because of the salubrious moderate climate of this little City, many doctors selected this city for a retired life. So did my parents. Father was a doctor who went to England for his super specialization and on his return taught at Madras medical college. When he retired from there he settled down in this city which was in the foothills of the well known Blue Mountains of South India. My siblings were all born by then and all were in school or college. It was in this time of their retired life that I was born to my parents. Probably an accident!
Father was a Radiologist and Cancer specialist. Mother was a lover and healer of animals and birds. Mother’s mother was a healer in the village. She was also a manager of the village theatre group. Even though the women in those days were not encouraged to be educated, my father’s sisters were all educated and worked as teacher and nurse etc. Mother was not sent to school as the village was not well connected to the town and there was no convenient mode of transport. She had a personal tutor who came home to teach her. She also spent time in a convent with nuns learning to sew when father was away in England.
I grew up with several other beings. Cows, dogs, cats, love birds, Guiney pigs, turkeys, chickens. Mother even grew Mushrooms. Father used to read the ancient mythological epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata to me as a child. Part of our grooming was to learn classical music or dance. Each of us were put through one or the other. I did a little of piano lessons, veena, carnatic music vocals and bharatnatyam (Indian classical dance).
A great Indian Rishi from Kerala South India, named Narayana Guru happened to visit my grandmother’s ancestral home. He installed our family temple, which today is a prominent and popular public temple. The temples that he consecrated were unique and different from the rest of the temples of those days. They were big open grounds with sand and had a pond, a garden, a library, and a hall for dharma talks. Some temples that he installed had just a mirror on the main altar or sometimes words, like we do on our kitchen altar in a Zen temple. This Rishi had a disciple who was highly educated. He was sent to Sorbonne in France to study Western Philosophy and Education. His thesis on the Personal Factor in Education was well received by the great masters of his time, in France. This was presented in the French language and published in the Sufi Quarterly magazine. This teacher Nataraja Guru became the spiritual guide of my father and the other doctors in the city. He was a spiritual scientist in the sense that he connected the sciences of the ancient scriptures into modern scientific language. Thereby bringing together philosophy and science. The tradition in India is that we would bow down to the feet of the Masters when they visited. I was three years old when I first met the two masters when they came to my father’s house with a big group of western hippies who were around them all the time. When I was asked to touch their feet, I skipped the main teacher and touched the feet of his student Nitya Chaitanya Yati who was a philosopher and psychologist. He became my Spiritual Master, guide and mentor.
At age 23 I decided to marry and my Mast gave my hand in marriage to a military officer. Two sons were born out of this marriage. They both live in Mumbai. Both are working as brand managers in a music company and they are both part of two different bands. One does hard rock and the other is part of an Indian pop band called Sanam. Their father remarried an army widow and adopted her son. They are a happy family and live in Mumbai.
After my Master passed in May 1999, I picked up a begging bowl and started to wander in the Himalayas. Another student of my Mast who is a Sufi and a writer ended up travelling with me. We became co-travelers in life. We support and nourish each other in practice. We travelled together for about 5 years. To me this was a way of grieving my Masters death.
During one of our travels I carried with me the thickest book on the shelf of our library which my co-traveler picked for me. It happened to be ‘Crooked Cucumber’ by David Chadwick, which I read from cover to cover. Coincidentally I arrived in the United States to visit family. Visited City center and Green Gulch Farm. Later after I got back to India, I got a call from the Abbot Ryushin Paul Haller, inviting me to the Practice Period at Tassajara. He ordained me as a priest in 2009. Thus began my deep connection and practice with San Francisco Zen Center.
DC Comment - I met Shindo at Tassajara about a decade ago. Asked where she was from and she said Kerala. Coimbatore where she grew up is in Tamil Nadu next to Kerala in the south of India and she'd spent years with her Hindu guru in Kerala as well. I said that in 2013 I had spent three months in northern India and was dying to go to the South. She told me how she'd learned about the SF Zen Center by reading Crooked Cucumber. She said it was quite by accident, that she and her partner Shoukath agreed to take one book with them on their pilgrimage journey and picked that volume at random from their ashram library, maybe because it was thickest. She said she was disappointed and said she didn't want a biography but Shoukath said they'd agreed to take whatever it was. And so they did and so we met.In the following years, Shindo generously spent a lot of her free time helping me with work on the Shunryu Suzuki archive. When I needed something done in the City Center building, it was almost always she who volunteered.
In 2010 I got the urge to go to go back to India and, much in the same way that Shindo and Shoukath had chosen the book they'd take, decided to go where Ramana Maharshi had lived. My son Clay asked me where in India and I said, "Here!" pointing to a mountain on the cover of a book by David Godman of his sayings. I'd read the whole book more than once to Ananda Claude Dalenberg at the convalescent home where he spent his last few years. But where was it? I looked it up. In Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu in the south on the east. Great. I'd wanted to see some of the south of India and Tamil Nadu was right next to Kerala in the south on the west. I emailed Shindo that I was going to Tiru as we called it later and she emailed me back that that was where she was living. She was a great deal of help to me there once again, finding a place near the Ramana Ashram for me to live and, with Katrinka who came for the first month, shopping for the furnishings. I went to the ashram every morning and evening, spent most of my days as usual writing and working on the Suzuki archive and web sites, but a good deal of time was also spent with Shindo and her wonderful spiritual friends and in the ashrams associated with Narayana Guru. Also got to meet David Godman who was frequently at the ashram. Shindo got me a special tour of their nice cool temperature and humidity controlled archive building for Ramana. I'd had no idea where I was going and what was there and was so fortunate that Shindo was there. She also was most hospitable to my son Clay when he visited. He'd come with me. We parted after the first ten days but he came to Tiru to visit for a few days. Decided to leave him alone with Gita because I saw her as a wise elder whom he might learn something from. But then I regretted it because I'd missed a home-made Indian meal. It turned out, a friend of mine and Dan Welch's from Santa Fe, KC, has a home there with her Indian husband. When I left, I was pleased that the spiritual group Shindo is involved with had a use for the furnishings and kitchen equipment I'd been using. It is great to see how Shindo's path is unfolding and to read her way-seeking mind story. I'm happy our paths have criss-crossed so beneficially.
DC, Bali - May 13, 2016
For more on my India experiences go to India Trip Tales.