Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Blue Lotus

Before moving to San Diego, my grandfather and namesake passed away. Generously, he left each of his grandchildren a modest inheritance.

Mine disappeared immediately into the coffers of Visa and MasterCard, whose services I had used to leverage my education. Jeevan and Nirbachita, however, became entrepreneurs.

Jeevan, who had settled in Santa Cruz after leaving the Center, used his money to open a yoga studio in Aptos, which he named Yoga Within. He ran it successfully for a few years before selling it.

Nirbachita, too, went into business for herself. She was still in the Center and as I recall, even before she moved to New York permanently -- before she had even inherited any money -- Guru had suggested that she open a cafe of some kind.

So, naturally, that's what she considered doing when she eventually came into the money. By then, however, Nirbachita's relationship with Guru was tempestuous. At the time, we were talking on the phone with each other fairly regularly and she seemed unsure whether to go forward with the idea. I seem to remember that, once she had the money in hand, she actually asked Guru to tell her whether she should open a shop or not, but Guru demurred.

With a natural courage that I never had, Nirbachita went forward alone. She found a nice location in Forest Hills, where she opened a beautiful little cafe, which she named The Blue Lotus. That's when, it seemed to me, the trouble began.

When a disciple opens a new store -- which in Center lingo is called an "enterprise" -- there are two general expectations.

First, it's practically a given that Guru will give the new enterprise a spiritual name, usually before it's opened. After all, the enterprise is dedicated to Guru and almost always has his photos and art on the walls, his music playing in the background, and his books available for sale. In fact, I can think of no business opened by a disciple in Queens during my time in the Center that Guru did not name.

Except Nirbachita's place.

The second expectation of a new enterprise owner is that Guru will visit. Along with Guru's visit come lots of disciples and some quick business. The true value of such a visit, though, is a morale boost. Guru's visit is his way of blessing both the new enterprise and its intrepid owner.

Guru, however, refused to visit The Blue Lotus. In fact, Guru stuck it to Nirbachita even one better. Not only did he tell her that he wouldn't be visiting her cafe, but he also prohibited certain prominent female disciples from visiting it, too. In the status conscious Center, that move was the death blow. It assured that very few disciples would ever see Nirbachita's beautiful creation.

I hesitate to delve too deeply into the underlying controversy, in part because there's so little depth to explore. A young disciple, whom Guru was fond of, left the Center. Nirbachita showed her some compassion and let her work in the cafe. That was it.

By August 2001, with my first year of law school over and Nirbachita seemingly in need of a morale boost of her own, I flew to New York for a short visit. On my first night there, there was a public meditation. Amazingly to me, Nirbachita had brought seekers (i.e., potential disciples she had more or less recruited) to the meditation, despite feeling under siege by Guru's poor treatment. I couldn't have withstood that kind of pressure. To her great credit, Nirbachita displayed complete equanimity.

I must say also that at the time, I wasn't all that worked-up over Guru's treatment of my sister. For at least a year or two, I had viewed Guru's harsh treatment of Nirbachita as his indirect, passive-aggressive way of trying to push her out of the Center. Not because she wasn't good enough for disciple life, but rather because, for her, the usefulness of disciple life had ended.

For Nirbachita, the spiritual life wasn't something that she did, it was who she was. Spirituality -- goodness, a constant quest to better oneself, to refine one's nature -- is integral to her personality. At that point in one's development, the need for the organized rules, regulations, and structure of a communal existence become a drag on one's further development, rather than an aid.

Nevertheless, I never encouraged Nirbachita to leave the Center. We had many frank conversations and I listened carefully and gave my take on things when asked, but I had decided that I wasn't going to overtly suggest that she leave Guru. That was for her to decide on her own.

Based upon my own experience -- and that of others that I have observed -- those who make the stark decision to leave the Center on their own, with little or no emotional help from others, seem to fare the best outside the Center.

For me -- and at the time, I expected for Nirbachita, too -- the internal process of mustering the courage to leave the Center, which literally took me years, is an intense and invaluable opportunity to mature. By actively and openly encouraging Nirbachita to leave the Center, I thought I might interfere with that valuable, albeit painful, experience.

In any event, the public meditation held on my first night in Queens was held at the tennis court, which had become standard in the years since I had been in the Center (rather than at P.S. 86). When Guru called the men seekers (which included ex-disciples like me), I descended from the gallery and sat amongst some 20 or 30 other guys in front of him.

As Guru scanned the seekers before him with half-closed eyes, I was a little apprehensive, wondering whether he'd recognize me. It seemed doubtful, considering the time that had passed, my civilian clothes (rather than the disciple whites), and my seat near the back of all the others. But as Guru looked past me, his head stopped, and he looked back in my direction for a few seconds. Then, opening his eyes fully -- as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing -- Guru looked at me directly.

That was it.

The next day was fantastic. I got to spend some time at The Blue Lotus, which had a French countryside motif. Then, my personal heroes, Bhima and Tejiyan, took me and Nirbachita surfing at Jones Beach. I've had a long love affair with the Gulf Stream, but that was the first time I ever surfed. Under the expert tutelage of the brothers Hogan, we had a great time.

On my last morning in New York, I ran with Sundar. It was a typical hot and humid August morning and despite the passage of some 12 years since our last run, Sundar hadn't lost a step. He hammered me for four or five miles before my younger body began to shut down.

Then, as he had done many times before, Sundar patiently walked and ran with me as I struggled to finish the last mile. It was a fitting end to a nice trip.

Photo credit here.

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