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Jai’s Blog – July 23, 2009

Guru’s Grace

A tale of berries and bananas…

Since time immemorial it’s been the custom in India, when visiting a holy person or shrine, to bring an offering. This can be fruit, sweets, flowers, incense, even money, and it signifies an offering of one’s heart and soul, of one’s very being, to the great heart of all. ‘Not my will but thy will be done.’

In December, 1971, I was in the ancient village of Vrindavan, where Radharani and Her sweet cowherd boy, Krishna, had enacted their divine romance many centuries before and, if you believe Vedic legend, are still enacting it to this very day. It was the first of many trips to India. I was 19 and totally dazzled to be in this splendorous world of devotion and mystery. Every other house was a temple resonant with ecstatic chanting; brightly adorned cows walked the streets; smiling Sadhus turning their japa beads offered blessings to all visitors; monkeys jumped from tree to tree; there were no cars and thus no pollution; it was medieval India in its full glory…

And most importantly, I had just met my Guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Of course, at that point I didn’t really know that he was my Guru. That awareness, along with the knowledge that I really know absolutely nothing of the true Guru/disciple relationship, came to me much later. But I did know that there was nowhere else I wanted to be. Maharajji had cast his net around my spirit, and pulled this confused young boy to his dusty, cracked lotus feet.

I was in the habit of stopping by the fruit stand on my way to Maharajji’s ashram and getting something nice and juicy to offer. Maharajji never seemed to pay much attention to these offerings, laughingly distributing the fruits and sweets to everyone sitting around him. So I didn’t put much thought into my meager purchases. But one day I spied something new, glistening on the fruit seller’s multicolored table top – a small pile of long, pale green berries, with the shape of blackberries but the color of grapes. They looked delicious! So I bought a small bag and went back to my room to wash them. After carefully extracting every shred of dirt I placed them back in the bag and started on my walk to the temple. But wait a minute! The bag was made out of thin paper and the bottom fell out. All of these precious berries fell in the dust. Oh no! I was getting late and didn’t want to miss darshan. So I went back to the guesthouse and once again washed each berry individually and lovingly laid them out on a clean towel to dry. But then I realized I didn’t have another bag. This was really turning into a major drama for me. So I rushed back to the fruit seller and begged another bag from him, ran back to my room, packed up the berries and raced to the Hanuman temple that was Maharajji’s ashram. Whew!!!!!

The darshan that afternoon was very short, with everyone basically filing by Maharajji one by one, bowing and moving on. I remember the day very clearly. The sun was bright but a cool breeze was blowing, carrying the sounds of kirtan in it’s soft embrace. Maharajji was sitting on a wooden table off to the side of the ashram over where the cars were often parked, not in his usual spot in the middle of the back courtyard. He had a dreamy, distant kind of expression on his face. When my turn came to bow I offered him the bag of berries which had caused me so much anguish. Baba looked at them, tore open the bag and spread the berries out on his blanket, exclaiming in Hindi, “Berries!” With a big smile he looked at me and slowly, with great relish, he ate every berry in the bag. I had never seen him do anything like this before. And as each tasty morsel disappeared past his lips I felt myself get lighter and lighter, dreamier and dreamier. Perhaps it was true what I had read about the true great ones, that they could devour one’s karma like a piece of candy. When at last I bowed to touch Maharajji’s feet he gave me two bananas and hit me on the head repeatedly before saying “Jao,” which is Hindi for ‘go,’ ‘leave,’ ‘get out of here!’

Now here’s when things began to get a little strange…

After slowly eating one of the bananas, luxuriating in it’s sweetness, I began my walk back home to the guesthouse where I was staying at the time. My feet barely seemed to touch the ground as my mind soared with the aching strains of chanting coming from the temple. “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” Tears filled my eyes as I walked down the dusty path. There was a small ashram next to Maharajji’s where an old Baba lived with his pet elephant. I’d never met the resident sadhu but had been told that Maharajji liked him very much. I had, however, seen his elephant many times as I passed by. He was a small skinny little fellow with big languid eyes, tiny tusks and a long swinging trunk. That day when I stopped to say “hi,” the elephant looked longingly at my remaining banana and seemed to beg me to share it with him. My heart was already melting from the experiences of the morning so of course I handed my banana to my new animal friend. He scooped up the banana in his trunk and ate it in a blink of an eye and then smiled at me. And then stretched his trunk out to the side like a flute. And then crossed one leg over the other. And then tilted his body to the left. Oh my goodness gracious!!!!! He had transformed into Krishna Himself, playing His divine flute!!!! My whole being trembled with this vision. Had I gone totally crazy? Or had Maharajji opened the eye of my heart to enable me to see God everywhere? Only he really knows. But as I bowed down and put my forehead in the blessed dirt of Vrindavan, I promised myself never to forget that day; the day when simply washing a pile of berries brought me to the feet of the Lord…

Peace,

Jai

2009-07-23T21:42:46+00:00July 23rd, 2009|