Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Gospel

I don't remember August Celebrations that year (1984).

From Pulin's kidnapping and rescue my memory skips to the fall -- my last as a California disciple. I was back working for Rick and living at his house, which also served as the San Jose Sri Chinmoy Center (despite the fact that it was actually located in Cupertino).

By then, our little Center had grown. We did it not by giving classes and recruiting new disciples that way, but by attracting disciples from other Centers to move to ours. The number one attraction being the generous hourly rate Rick paid his landscaping employees.

I don't want to exaggerate the size of our group -- it numbered maybe just north of a half-dozen -- but we had been hovering at around three people for such a long time. By that fall, aside from me, Rick and Elizabeth, there was Nick (a great runner and infectiously funny guy, originally from Seattle), Tony (a Lebanese-born guitar player, one of our only two new recruits), Sultana (a 90-plus year woman, our other new recruit), and Anugata (originally from S.F. and who deserves, and shall get, his own post; you can get a glimpse of him here, in a nice blog done by Utpal Marshall).

The Center was a guys' house. We worked, ran and lived together. Rick had transformed his garage into four small bedrooms, where Nick, Tony, Anugata and I lived. I remember it as a fun and dynamic time for all of us. That's when I began reading a book that -- in the inimitable words of Eugene Struthers -- brought my spiritual zeal to a "whole ... nuther ... level."

If Swami Yogananda's Autobiography inspired me to live a spiritual life, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna taught me how.

For me, reading the Gospel was like discovering family members that I hadn't known existed. From its first pages -- and a new translation of it can be read online here -- the Gospel drew me into a world that felt thrillingly familiar. That fall, we received a lot of rain, which prevented us from doing much landscaping work, so I spent rainy days lying in my loft-shrine alternately reading the Gospel and crying for oneness with the Divine. For that was the lesson I took from the Gospel: cry for the Divine like a lost child crying for his mother, but do it in secret.

The other significant event of that fall was Guru's visit to our Center at Rick's house. Shortly before Guru arrived, Rick told me that he had got in touch with my old friend Charlie and invited him to come see Guru. I was surprised. Charlie had left the Center a few years before, when we were both in high school. I hadn't seen him since. (Only much later did it occur to me that Guru must have asked Rick to talk to Charlie.)

That night I was anxious about seeing Charlie, but he didn't come by. Instead, the Center was inundated with disciples from throughout California in anticipation of Guru's visit, which was just part of a longer visit Guru was making to San Francisco.

Sitting right in front of Guru that night in the living room of Rick's house, packed with disciples, I couldn't have been happier. Near the end of the short visit, Guru asked Rick about Charlie. When Rick told Guru that Charlie wasn't there, Guru looked at me.

I told Guru I hadn't seen Charlie since high school. He asked me a question or two and then closed his eyes and said my name. It appeared he was in a reverie of some sort. Then he said, "You have a very good soul ... a very old soul."

For the rest of the fall, I spent my free time in the solitude of my room reading the Gospel and crying for God.

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