Friday, April 11, 2008

A New Year

On the plane ride back to California from April Celebrations 1984, I was both exhausted and exhilarated.

It had been the busiest Celebrations of my discipleship and by its conclusion I had been exposed to some of the best men I'd ever meet. By years end, my goal of moving to New York permanently would be near fruition.

That, however, was in the future. On my flight home, all I could think about were the previous two and a half weeks and how busy I'd been. Not only were there the typical morning and evening functions of Celebrations, but I was also now a permanent member of the tennis grounds crew. That meant that I not only acted as a ball boy during the hours that Guru played tennis each day, but I also started learning how to prepare the clay court for play beforehand.

And then there was the singing. I was now a member of the S.F. boys' singing group. Months before Celebrations started, Guru gave us some 50 Bengali devotional songs that he wanted us to perform. So, one morning at the tennis court, standing in a semi-circle before Guru with flowers in our folded hands, the eight (or so) of us belted them out, one after another. When we were done, Guru handed each of us a grapefruit. He later proclaimed that of the four preeminent singing groups (the others being the S.F. girls, and the N.Y. boys and girls, respectively), we had performed the best.

That Celebrations, I also ran my first marathon -- the first of some 25 marathons I'd run over the next five years. I did it in Flushing Meadow Park, during the annual disciple 12-hour race walk. I was too new a disciple to compete in that brutal event (thank the gods). That year, though, the race was held on the day I turned 19. Rick's brother -- Arpan -- gave me the idea to run 19 miles for my 19th birthday (something Arpan did annually into his 40s). So, with Rick running alongside, I slowly began running the one-mile course being used for the race walk. When I got to 19, I just decided to go the extra seven miles for the marathon.

But it was how I ended most nights during the Celebrations that April that was most important, not only for my personal development, but also for laying the foundation for my future move to New York. It started with some simple advice from my friend and S.F. disciple Jigisha. He told me that if I could find a way to lighten the work load of the disciples who served Guru everyday, then it would be just as good as serving Guru directly myself.

I liked that idea and knew just how to help. I was now surrounded by the guys who did nothing but serve Guru directly, most prominently Databir, Bipin (pictured above quite a few years later), and Pulin.

After their day jobs -- which typically ended after midnight -- these three still had the responsibility of cleaning and preparing the disciple-run diner named The Smile of the Beyond (or "The Smile" as we called it) for business the next day. They had to wash all the pots and pans, wipe down the booths, refill condiments, mop the floor, et cetera. In return for which, all three got a modest allowance and free food 24/7.

Cleaning The Smile wasn't a big job, even for just one person, but doing it at the end of a long day like they were used to was tough. That's where I saw an opportunity to be of service. After the evening function would end -- typically sometime after 10:00 p.m. -- I'd head over to The Smile and start on Databir's, Bipin's, and Pulin's chores.

Usually, they weren't there. After the official evening function would end, Guru would have a select group of disciples, including the guys, over to his house (the "House" as we say). So, my mission was to finish their chores before they got back to The Smile. I relished getting everything done and then sneaking back to Databir's place (where, thanks to Ketan, I was now staying). The next day, the guys would be so thankful.

Oftentimes, I couldn't finish everything before they got back from the House, which was great for me. Most nights they'd bring me back prasad and tell me what was going on there. I tried to be unobtrusive and made a point not to ask questions -- I still wasn't sure just how far I was accepted. But they accepted me with open arms.

I was so grateful. These guys were different than other disciples. I don't mean spiritually "higher" or more advanced -- whatever those terms mean, if anything at all. Primarily, they were hard workers to whom a natural humility was constant. They were devoted to Guru in an intimate way, but their devotion was natural and devoid of the reverential awe so common amongst disciples. Most importantly, however, they didn't demand Guru's attention. They were there to serve, but preferred to be out of the limelight.

I would distinguish this small band of brothers from other disciples (including many others who served Guru directly) in much the same way one might distinguish veteran soldiers who had seen combat from those idealistic and sometimes fanatical troops who had never been near the front lines (REMFs).

That's what I thought about as my plane sped west to California, taking me away from the spiritual front lines.

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