Saturday, February 2, 2008

First Steps on the Path

In late October 1981 -- a week after receiving word that Sri Chinmoy had accepted me as a disciple -- I found myself speeding south to Santa Barbara in Prakash's Saab turbo.

Guru had announced a surprise weekend visit to California, which would include stops in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and San Francisco. I was stoked. So were Charlie and Dave, as Prakash sped us south down Highway 101, blasting Santana's Oneness on the Saab's Pioneer tape deck.

When we arrived in Santa Barbara some three and a half hours later, we went straight to a public park where we found Guru sitting on a folding chair on the grass, with a hundred or so disciples sitting before him in a semi-circle. Though fall, it felt like spring to me.

Honestly, I don't remember my first impression of Guru. While nothing "magical" happened like Swami Yogananda's first meeting with his master, I do remember his cheerfulness, his physical vibrancy, and a beauty that seemed to emanate from inside him -- that same beauty that I had first recognized years earlier in the eyes of Paramahansa Yogananda. (The photo of Guru above was taken at about the time that I first saw him and is how I remember him best -- Photo credit.)

The reason that I don't remember that first meeting very well is because of what happened next. The Santa Barbara Center put on a five mile race the following day, which Charlie and I ran. (That five miler was so painful that today, some 26 years later, I still remember my dismal time of 45 minutes and change. Yikes.) Then, after cleaning up, we jumped back in Prakash's car and headed back north.

As it turned out, Guru had told all those disciples traveling on to the next stop to go directly to San Francisco. Meanwhile, Sri Chinmoy would be visiting the tiny Santa Cruz Center and all its disciples were asked to be there. Naturally, with Prakash at the wheel of the Saab, we arrived in Santa Cruz before Guru did. When he arrived, he went straight upstairs to the ethereally white meditation room and sat on the low, throne-like seat his picture usually occupied.

Guru meditated for about ten minutes or so, first seemingly within himself, climbing some unseen ladder with eyes opened, at times flickering back and forth, at times transfixed. Then, one by one, Guru scanned the room, settling his eyes upon each of the half dozen of us in the room in turn. My inner attitude was like that of a baby bird in the nest, just opening its beak as wide as possble and hoping that mom stuffed as much food in as possible.

Guru then began speaking. He was speaking about a soul, that was present in the room, even though the person herself was not. Guru was visibly pained by it -- that is, by the experience. He was sad. I didn't know who he was talking about until the meditation was over and Guru was in his car on the way to San Francisco. Before we all jumped back into the Saab for a hair raising ride over the Santa Cruz mountains and north to SF, I asked one of the young women in the Center what Guru had been talking about.

"Urmila," she said. "He misses Urmila." The Santanas had left the Center for good.

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