A True Story About a Living Meditation Master Saving My Life

Read Daren Black’s real-life story about Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar saving his life.

Daren Black
Art of Living Volunteer

Bangalore, India, Art of Living Ashram at 21km South Kanakapura Road, 1991. 

With the warm weather, it was comfortable for me to wear a t-shirt and shorts for gardening seva. Most of the ashram was barren and rocky. In a few areas where water collected there were thatches of weeds. There I was, the guy from California, recklessly walking through waist-high weeds in shorts. I was fascinated by the insect life, from the turquoise blue spider with gold stripes on its leg joints, to the centipedes that hid under my meditation pillow. I failed to put two and two together. While I was marching through the weeds, I was getting lots of insect bites all over my legs each day. We also had a nest of fire ants that I got too close to since I was in a hurry. The fire ant bites really hurt and happened very quickly since those ants moved like lightning.  

When I was growing up, I had been registered with Medic Alert as having allergies to insect stings. (Medic Alert is an organization in the USA that provides medical personnel with critical medical information about patients who have life-threatening conditions.) 

Each day, during most of the first two months of my 1991 ashram stay, there were more bumps and welts from numerous insect stings on my legs. Somehow, I didn't think about my allergies. Foolishly, I was ignoring my own vulnerability and being careless about myself while trying to do as much as I could to improve the ashram. I ignored minor itching that repeatedly came and went. Not aware of my own recklessness, I wanted to do my utmost to help the ashram grow some trees and look nice.

volunteer gardening

For several weeks all the gardening tools were kept locked in my dorm building, Parashara. I had to wait for every tool to be returned before I could wash up and change. Which meant that I was generally the last person to finish.  

At that time, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was still known as Punditji. We were having small satsangs with Punditji after seva, before lunch, in the Devi platform meeting area with a thatched roof. One day my skin started itching like crazy, worse than ever, during the seva time. Eager to beautify the ashram, I ignored it and kept working. By the time all the tools were turned in, I was hot, sweaty, and intensely itchy all over. Ignoring the insect bites all over my legs, I thought that maybe something on my skin was the irritant. My scalp was especially maddeningly itchy. I washed it all over with some iodine soap. After bathing in cold water, the itching subsided. I thought that I was in the clear. 

The next day, the same thing happened. As I waited for the last tools to be returned, I felt like the itching would cause me to explode. My whole body felt extremely odd and itchy all over.  

Again, I lathered all over with the iodine soap, including my head, and rinsed over and over with the cold water.  

Nothing helped. I was still itching like crazy. Getting dressed was strangely awkward. Plus, after getting dressed, I felt like I was underwater. Physical movement was becoming more difficult. My head felt strange, with increasingly greater pressure all over. Mentally, I was out of touch with my body’s intense allergic reaction to the insect stings.  

If we had had a decent mirror, I would have been shocked by my appearance. There was no mirror in our shared bathroom and I did not have one in the dorm. Vaguely, I had a thought that I was more tired than I should be before lunch. My inner determination to get to the Satsang was the only thing keeping me going.  

With unaccustomed difficulty, I slowly climbed up the hill to the meeting area. Thoughts were becoming more muddled. Each step was challenging since my joints did not like bending. I forced myself to keep moving. The allergic reaction intensified with every step.  

Volunteer project

The rocks and dirt were the same as they had been earlier, but I was starting to feel like I was on another planet. It was hard to move and the thought of lying down made the dirt look softer than it was. I talked myself out of attempting a brief rest. “One step after another, just a little further…”  

After I passed the top of the hill and the meditation hall, I slowly approached the meeting area. From about 50 feet away I could see the whole side of the building. Since there was no wall on that side, nothing was hidden. Everyone was already seated and Punditji was talking to them. I was heading directly toward them. The master’s right side was toward me and the audience had their left side towards me. There was no wall, only open space between us. On previous days Punditji had continued talking as I approached and entered the room.  

Suddenly Punditji stopped talking and looked at me. His eyes popped open wider than I have ever seen. The master kept staring at me as I slowly approached. The whole group was silently looking at me. I felt like my body was a big container of weird liquid in a pressure cooker, and the pressure inside was increasing. He kept staring with his eyes opened enormously wide. There was a brief flash of self-consciousness since I was the center of attention. Punditji remained silent and never dropped his gaze. Part of me was drowning in the overload of venom in my veins, and part of me was noticing and thinking it was odd that Punditji would keep staring. My cognitive abilities had decreased and were fading. 

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

As I came within about ten feet of Punditji, full of concern and urgency he asked me, “What happened!???”  

Miserably, I barely managed to reply, “I don’t know…” I had not connected the dots that I was full of insect venom and verging towards a fatal allergic reaction.  

My body felt like it would burst, the swelling was becoming severe.  

“What should I do?” I asked, feeling desperate, with a vague awareness of being trapped and exhausted.  

Punditji pointed at a spot on the ground, just a few feet away from where he sat. He gave an abrupt, serious command, “Sit in vajrasan (diamond pose). Do ujjayi breath.”  

As I sat, I closed my eyes and started ujjayi breathing. I felt a sense of safety for having reached the master. Punditji resumed his talk. Unable to focus, I have no idea what was the topic of discussion.

At first, it was difficult just to sit and breathe. Gradually, I began to feel the pressure inside my body begin to decrease. It was such an incredible relief. I don’t know how long I sat there. Punditji did not stop the discussion until I felt much more like my usual self. Yet I was still in a bit of a daze after Punditji got up and walked away. His effortless miracle of healing was just a small moment in his day and a huge turning point in my life. 

Pierre, one of my roommates in Parashara, came up to me and exclaimed, with his distinctive French-Canadian accent, “My friend, I did not recognize you! Your face was swollen. You looked like a clown! You looked like a clown!!”  

Then I realized that I had been way too careless. After that, I made an effort to avoid being an easy target for insect bites and stings.  


Editor’s note:

This is a chapter from Daren’s new book. If you enjoyed reading this, please let him know. He will let you know when his book is published. daren@PracticalAyurveda.com

Art of Living Part 1 course: Discover Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ancient secret to modern well-being.

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