While I was secretly planning my getaway, there was another development: Guru had become extremely displeased with the New York boys' singing group, which was known simply as "Kanan's group," after our saintly leader.
For his day job, Kanan ran a flower shop on Parsons Boulevard called "The Garland of Divinity's Love." He's married to a nice woman named Hashi and happens to be that rare individual for whom nobody has an unkind word. The only cross he apparently had to bear in life was leading his singing group, and it was getting heavy (not that it was his fault at all).
The singing group itself was made up of about 10 guys, all of whom had been in the Center significantly longer than I had. Unfortunately, at least half of them had a motivation problem when it came to learning and singing Guru's Bengali songs. Besides special sets of songs for each of the two annual Celebrations, we sang two or three songs each week at Guru's public meditations (which were then held at Public School 86, just across the street from the disciple-run stores).
Our motivation problem was obvious -- one need only compare us to the New York girls' group led by Tanima (front and center in the blue sari above). Like us, Tanima's group also sang two or three songs each week at the public meditation. Unlike the songs we sang, however, Tanima's group typically sang either Guru's newer songs or they would sing more obscure, complicated songs. The girls sang with conviction and power, a direct result of each singer in the group knowing each song cold.
Our group, in comparison, was like a spiritual Top-40 group (and not in a good way). We sang (and re-sang) the same tired tunes just about every week. You might think, therefore, that we'd sing them with gusto, but you'd be wrong. Only two-thirds of us, it seemed to my ear, even knew all the words to the songs we sang in public, so not all of us sang. Needless to say, we weren't very powerful. And that wouldn't have been so bad except that there was at least one guy in the group who would belt out the songs anyway, despite mangling the words throughout.
Frankly, more often than not, we sounded like shit. It was personally demoralizing to me early on in my discipleship because singing meant so much to me and was such a big part of my spiritual discipline. By the time I had burned out spiritually, however, I no longer cared. That was the environment in which Guru, just back from his winter break, decided to act.
If we wanted to remain in Kanan's group, Guru said, each of us would have to audition for Tanima. She would decide who was in and who was out.
I got this news from Kanan at Progress-Promise one evening, a week or so away from my planned secret escape from the Center. But even if I hadn't been planning to leave, there is no way I would have auditioned for Tanima in order to remain in that group. Ever since I had been involved in the singing groups -- first in Venu's group in San Francisco (nice shot here of Venu with Sunil) and later Kanan's group when I moved to New York -- Guru had always fostered competition between the four principal groups (SF boys and girls, and NY boys and girls). The idea of submitting control of our group to Tanima just struck me as humiliating. I wouldn't do it. I'd rather not be in the group.
The fact that I was leaving the Center just made it that much easier to blow off the individual auditions with Tanima.
On a Thursday night shortly after the scheduled auditions -- and just two days before I had planned on flying back to California for good -- Ashrita called me at home.
"Yogaloy, Guru said that you can stay in Kanan's group. You don't have to audition for Tanima. But, he wants you to know that that kind of pride will take you away from the Center."
Though Ashrita seemed to be standing ready to take down my response and communicate it to Guru, I said nothing but "thanks" and hung up the phone.
Did Guru know I was leaving?
Photo credit here.