Sunday, August 16, 2009


The most remarkable disciple I've ever met is -- without question -- Databir. Nobody else comes close.

In my early days as a disciple, when I was still living in California and only dreaming of life with my guru in New York, silent meditation was my forte. It was the one thing that I was extremely good at right from the start, and if you'll pardon the conceit, I thought I was better at it than most of the other disciples I observed.

You might fairly ask, how could I know that I was "better" at it than the others I observed? I don't have a good answer for that question. I didn't understand it myself -- I just knew. It was part of the gift, I suppose. Like Sri Ramakrishna was fond of saying, it was like one hemp smoker always being able to recognize another hemp smoker, even across a crowded room.

In any event, that psychic communion time was precious to me. As I moved to New York, however, I began to worry that, unless I was careful, I'd lose myself in the daily routine of being a "local."

There was good reason to worry. Guru routinely put down the local disciples en masse. They had "fallen" he had said, and as it became clear to some of my friends that I would be moving to New York permanently, they warned me "not to become a local." Key to avoiding such a fate, I figured, was keeping up my daily meditation practice at home.

That turned out to be impossible.

If you were a "local" disciple -- and a guy -- then the way to get physically closer to Guru was through hard work and self sacrifice. By "hard work" I don't mean just working hard on a particular project or for a set period of time. No. I mean losing sleep on a regular -- if not indefinite -- basis.

For the very short time that I kept up such a pace, for example, I was expected to be at work at the Smile of the Beyond by 8 a.m. and I would work until 4 p.m. If Guru wasn't at the tennis court, I'd get in a run, then shower and head to that evening's function. Afterwards, I might head back to the Smile -- by which time it might be 10:30 or 11 p.m. -- where I'd wash dishes for Bipin and Pulin or do Databir's clean-up chores (while they were up at Guru's house). Sometime after midnight, the boys would return, whereupon we might all head out on a road crew mission to re-paint one of Guru's running courses or drive into Manhattan to poster for an upcoming concert. I might then hit the sack at 2 or 3 a.m.

Rinse. Repeat.

After a single week like that, the idea that I'd get up even a half hour early to meditate before work was absurd. As it turned out, sitting in front of a bedroom shrine no longer seemed necessary. Meditating in front of Guru personally almost everyday, combined with hours of selfless service, resulted in a continuous sense of euphoria that seemed to exude from my very pores. The only problem -- in hindsight -- was that I was only able to keep this frenetic schedule up for a few months before I had to begin drawing some boundaries for myself.

Databir kept it up for almost four decades.

I remember little about the details of Databir's background, except that he was a jock in high school, went to Wesleyan University -- where he played linebacker on the football team -- and upon graduation in or around 1970 became a disciple. On some of our late night sojourns into Manhattan to put up posters, Databir would regale us with stories of his around the world adventure after graduating college. His father, he'd said, gave him an around-the-world ticket as a graduation gift, whereupon Databir travelled the globe.

It was never clear to me how much of the stories were true -- wrestling tigers in India, for example, seemed to be a bit of exaggeration designed to keep me and Ketan awake in the back seat of his station wagon (the front seat being reserved for Guru's use) -- but that didn't matter. It was the excitement with which Databir told the stories and how he could work himself into almost hysterical laughter at our incredulous looks while listening to him.

In my early New York days, before I had officially been granted local status or had secured an apartment of my own, I slept in Databir's living room. Among the books I came across in his house that winter was one I hadn't seen before.

It looked just like one of Guru's -- having apparently been printed by Agni Press -- but it's author was "Casey Waters." It told in simple prose a series of funny and inspiring anecdotes from "Casey's" early discipleship. (How I wish I could remember the name of that book or have a copy of it to quote from. Only a limited number were originally printed and as I recall it may have seen a second printing sometime later, but I've found no reference to it on the web. If anyone has it, please let me know.)

I remember only fragments now. How young Casey meditated 8 to 10 hours a day. How he used to stalk Guru's house, hoping for a glimpse of his master. How one time, Guru and the disciples were taking a bus trip, and for some reason Guru asked Casey to come up to the front. When he did, Guru told him to get off the bus and run back to Jamaica, New York. Casey got off the bus somewhere near the Tappan Zee Bridge -- almost 40 miles away! (Check this for some perspective.) I found the book to be tremendously inspiring.

From the mid-to-late 1980s, Guru played a lot of tennis. I think I can speak for all of the guys who made up my small circle of close friends amongst the locals -- Databir, Ketan, Bipin, Pulin, and later Sagar, amongst others -- that late summer afternoons at the court were the best of times. Within the Center, Guru had a pecking order for whom he would play tennis with and in what order.

In New York, Databir was at the top of that pecking order and they'd play together for hours sometimes. The intensity with which Databir would return the ball to Guru -- often with both feet leaving the ground as he whacked the ball with his forehand -- was something to behold.

As people look back upon the disciples of Sri Chinmoy, it may be tempting for some to overlook Databir. That would be a mistake.

Databir's humility makes him small, almost invisible. In this regard, he reminds me of one of Sri Ramakrishna's little known disciples: Durga Charan Nag, or as he was called by those who knew him, Nag Mahasay.

In comparing Swami Vivekananda and Nag Mahasay, it was said that both escaped the net of Maya by different means. While Swamiji became too big to be ensnared by the net of illusion, Nag Mahasay became too small, ultimately slipping through the mesh.

I won't recount Nag Mahasay's biography here, but it's worth the read if you haven't read about him before. (Here's a link to Guru's retelling of some Nag Mahasay's biographical anecdotes.) What gives his humility power, however, is the fact that in being humble, Nag Mahasay -- like Databir -- was really sacrificing something. In other words, it's relatively easy to be a humble person when you don't have extraordinary skills or capabilities. If you're small by nature, it's not a big stretch to embrace the way of humility.

Databir's all-encompassing humility aside, under the surface there is nothing small about him. He has a prodigious, well-trained mind coupled with a physical energy that has outpaced all of his spiritual peers.

If you ask who was Guru's best disciple, then the answer is simple.

It's Databir.

Nobody else comes close.

The photo of Databir, above, was taken by Unmesh. You can see his other fine photos here. You can visit the Nag Mahashay Ashram here.


vindicreated vision said...

The book is called 'Seven Multiplied by Five Sagas', 35 stories Databir offered on his 35th birthday. Pradhan also has a book, 'At the Feet of my Master'. Both great and super inspiring.

Y. said...

Great! Thanks for that. I wish that someone would put that baby online. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I'm absolutely positive that you mean well by writing this tribute to Databir. Appreciating other devotees' fine qualities is a good thing - it helps one identify with the spiritual light in others.

But what bothers me is that your entry also feeds into the caste environment that was so prevalent on the path - especially your well-meaning, enthusiastic closing statement "Databir....was Guru's best disciple. Nobody else comes close".

Now, perhaps he WAS the best disciple - I'm not begrudging him or anyone else their due. But there's something not quite sacred about this proclivity of declaring the best when dealing with human hearts and souls. Perhaps Databir, like many others in Sri Chinmoy's limelight, peaked at a certain time. Might Kailash have surpassed him later on.... or Ranjana, or Ashrita? CKG himself frequently called Pulak "my best disciple". Who knows?

Perhaps there is a poverty-stricken devotee in the Ukraine, Russia or Africa who has extraordinary qualities, yet never was able to come to New York - and we never knew about them.

I apologize if this seems like a picky point - but how much more dignity and nobility would there be if such declarations of good, better, best, and best of all would be kept silent and sacred. Let a seekers good qualities shine in their thoughts, self-giving qualities, in their actions and deeds instead.

Y. said...

No need to apoligize. I think you make some very good and valid points. Thanks for taking the time to do so.

At the outset, let me say that I suspect we aren't too far apart on this issue and any difference is probably attributable to my lack of clarity.

So, let me try to be more clear now. I'm not assessing Databir's "inner achievement" here or saying that Databir was Guru's most "advanced" disciple. Not at all. On that score, I suspect you're right: it's just as likely to be someone who nobody knows rather than the usual suspects.

My judgment of Databir is purely based on instensity of personal service to Guru over time. Using that standard, I stand by my assessment.

As you point out, this is my tribute to Databir. I've tried to give similar tributes to most of the other people who have had an impact upon me, from whom I've learned what little I know. Of course, however, that's not to say any of these people are perfect or without flaws.

I hope with that clarification, I've addressed most of your concern. Finally, though, let me push back just a little on your "caste environment that was so prevalent on the path." And I also apologize in advance for being a little picky here.

As I've noted in the blog, the Center was a very status conscious place, particularly if you lived in the NY area with Guru and -- this is a big generalization here -- especially if you sat on the girls' side of the aisle. I can see how for some who gave their entire lives to Guru in obscurity, the "caste" description might be an apt one.

I don't think, however, that this dynamic was all that different than what happens in organizations of all types. In other words, I wonder whether there isn't a big component of this attributable to organizational dynamics? I found the Navy, for example, to be eerily similar, particularly in the dividing line between officers and enlisted men.

From my own limited experience in the Center, it didn't seem like a caste setting, which suggests having some station in the Center for which one was born into or received without merit. And for others, the idea that they could never be a part of the "in crowd" no matter how hard they tried. From the guys' side of the aisle, at least, I don't think that was true, as I stated in the post.

One could get physically close to Guru if you were willing to work -- physically work -- hard enough for a long enough period of time. It came down to sacrifice and a little luck (in getting noticed).

Well, I hope I've eased your concerns. I do share them. Thanks for your comment. It made me think about the post some more and reminded me to be a little more clear before hitting the "publish" button.

AM Euorpe said...

Databir is definitely one of the more enthusiastic/energetic people I have met. I stayed in his house 3-4 weeks pr year for many years, but most of all I remember his enthusiasm from the Christmas trips: if there was a Frisbee match going on within 200 meters/yards from your hotel room and you opened the door/window you could hear Databir non stop commenting the game on top of his voice while playing. And I mean not stop! He told someone he had the ability to meditate for hours and hours but CKG told him to work in stead. CKG told him he had been one of the great Chinese philosophers, I asked Databir about this a few years ago and he confirmed that CKG had said this.
Also thank you for the links to Nag Mahasay, I knew there was a group but did not know there was an ashram/home page.