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 Mahabaratha 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-traveller 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.