Saturday, February 9, 2008

A New York Dream

My immediate goal was clear from the beginning and I made it known to anyone who would listen: I was going to move to New York. That's where Sri Chinmoy lived. That's where I had to be.

One night, Prakash took me and Charlie to see a concert by the progressive rock band The Warriors, which was led by long-time disciple Narada Michael Walden. After the concert, Prakash took us backstage and introduced us to Narada, who could not have been more gracious. He seemed to be glowing after the concert. When he asked me what my goal was after high school, I told him flat out: "I'm moving to New York." Narada laughed in the big, infectious way that he has and encouraged me.

A more pressing issue for the Santa Cruz disciples, however, was finding a new Center. The Santanas, who had left the group months earlier, would no longer be financing the apartment we were using for our meetings. Based upon the geographic make-up of the remaining Santa Cruz Center disciples, it seemed certain the Center would relocate east, over the hill to the fledgling Silicon Valley, nearer my dad's house, where I lived.

Aside from Prakash (who I profiled here), the Santa Cruz Center then consisted of me, Charlie, Charlie's brother Dave, Dave's guitar teacher Peter, another guy named Rick, and two young women named Claire and Elizabeth, who both lived locally in Santa Cruz. Prakash, Dave, Charlie, Peter, Rick and I all lived in the San Jose area. That's where the Center moved.

After some searching, we found a one bedroom walk-up in a shady (as in sketchy, not tree-lined) part of down town San Jose, where most of the houses had been converted to half-way houses. It was almost exactly a mile and a half from where I was living.

Our nominal Center leader was Deborah Santana's sister, Ratna. If memory serves, "Ratna" means "jewel," and she has an obvious beauty. Ratna was a long-time member of the San Francisco Center, which was then the most dynamic (if not largest) Center outside of Guru's New York headquarters. By the time Ratna was leading our new San Jose Center, she had probably been a disciple for a decade already. She had gravitas and without saying anything demanded respect.

I, however, was one pointed and only wanted to get to New York. My first opportunity arose in April 1982, the so-called "April celebrations." Twice a year -- April and August -- Guru's disciples descended upon Queens for a few weeks of on non-stop spiritual activities. The April celebrations were centered around Guru's arrival in the West (April 1964) and the August celebrations were centered around Guru's birthday (August 27, 1931).

So, sometime at the beginning of the New Year (1982), Ratna began asking the San Jose disciples which of us were planning on going to the celebrations in April. As Center leader, I suppose she had to provide a head count. My dad said I could go, so long as my trip coincided with Easter break at school, which was about two weeks long. Unfortunately, the celebrations ran over by just a couple of days and neither my dad nor Ratna would make an exception.

To be fair to Ratna, the rule requiring disciples to arrive on the first day of celebrations and stay until the last day, was Guru's. But even then, I sensed that there were ways around such bureaucratic rules in exceptional cases. I mean, come on, I was a 16 year old high school student dying to see his master, not some flunky half-hearted or burned-out disciple who wanted to blow into New York days late and cut-out days early.

Ratna, sniffing out my haughty sense of entitlement, was unmoved. She told me that over the years she had seen disciples come and go and that in all likelihood I wouldn't last in the Center for even one year anyway.

That was a terrible thing to say, but it had two positive results. First, at that very early stage of my discipleship, I lost any sense that I had to defer to my Center leader or any other disciple for any reason -- an attitude that I would carry with me for the next nine years. Second, I realized that I had to control my own destiny; I couldn't continue allowing others to control my access to Guru, whether it was dad, Ratna, or anyone else.

I didn't go to New York that April. Instead, I spent my Easter break in Oceanside, California with my paternal grandparents.

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