Friday, June 20, 2008

The Saint

If 1986 was the year of personal breakthroughs for me, then 1987 was the year that I simply broke.

It started with a phone call from Ashrita in early April 1987, just before Celebrations began.

“Smile of the Beyond, may I help you?”

“Yogaloy? It’s Ashrita.”

Ashrita was the official messenger to and from Guru. Something was wrong. From all of the phone calls I had had with him the previous summer about my sister Liz, I recognized the tone of his voice.

“What’s up,” I asked.

“Yogaloy, Guru wants you to be careful. He’s received complaints that you’re becoming too friendly with Jayanti.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I was stunned.

“When I spoke to Guru," Ashrita continued, "he said ‘Yogaloy is a saint,’ but he wants you to be careful.” He paused. It seemed like Ashrita was waiting for a response from me to carry back to Guru. My head was spinning.

“Thanks,” I said, and hung up the phone.

Jayanti is Ketan’s little sister. At the time, I was about to turn 22, Ketan was almost 20 and Jayanti was perhaps 16 or 17. From the time of our introduction at the tennis court by Guru, Ketan and Jayanti were like siblings to me. While I’ve already discussed how Ketan felt like a lost brother to me, he didn’t actually remind me of my brother Jeevan in any way. Not so with Jayanti. From the time I first met her, she reminded me very much of my sister Liz in appearance and that’s how I thought of her, as a sister.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention their mother, Samarpana. If you look up the word “sacrifice” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Samarpana (right alongside that of my wife, Elaine). I can’t say enough good things about her or what she meant to me during those years when I lived so far away from my own family. Samarpana, Ketan and Jayanti were like a second family to me.

The idea that someone had complained about me and Jayanti was infuriating.

I searched my memory for any incident that might have been latched onto by the ever-present tattle tales and it came to me in an instant. I was in the hallway at P.S. 86 the night before -- where we held evening functions at the time -- when Samarpana and Jayanti arrived from Greenwich, where they lived during the week. I hugged Samarpana and clapped Jayanti on the back. That must have been the offending touch: that clap on the back.

The more I thought about it, the madder I got. I was particularly obsessed with who had ratted me out, and -- from the beginning -- pissed that Guru had felt it necessary to have Ashrita call me. If I was a saint -- and at the time I was -- then why tell me? Tell the idiots who had complained about me!

I had always had a pretty muscular view -- perhaps elitist view -- of what disciple life should have been. It didn’t include tattle tales. From my point of view, tattle tales and brown noses -- often one and the same -- had no place in the spiritual life. And while I realized even then that they in fact did have a place in the wider scheme of the Center, I didn’t like it and that really hit home in the wake of Ashrita’s call.

Ultimately, informants served Guru and he cultivated them. He often said that those who knew about the wrongdoing of their brother and sister disciples and didn’t report it were just as guilty as the wrongdoers themselves. No doubt, the informant system helped Guru control his loosely organized Center. That said, it rewarded and bred weakness and small mindedness in those who participated (as I myself had once done years earlier in my discipleship). As captain of the ship, Guru was the only one to blame for the system.

At the time, though, it wasn’t the system itself that I was angry about, but the unwarranted complaints about me. It was maddening. In the wake of Ashrita’s call, I hit only two of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief: anger and depression.

That night, I found myself sitting in the hallway of P.S. 86 again when Samarpana and Jayanti came walking towards me. During the day, I had wondered whether Jayanti had got a call too. Looking at their long faces as they approached me, it was obvious they had. They sat down next to me in the hall for a little while, but it was awkward. I imagined people running up to Ashrita to complain -- just as they had done to my sister the previous summer -- and I didn’t care.

That experience cracked my Center-identified persona permanently.

Great photo of Jayanti at about the time in question, taken by Subala. See Subala's other great photos here. Jayanti went on become a college writing professor and her memoir -- tentatively titled Cartwheels in a Sari -- is due to be published in early 2009. Check her website here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...