As I first entered the ashram last October, my state of mind was blank and, at the same time, frustrated. I had been longing for my Guru for so long, it had become a constant ache within. But of course, having read some spiritual autobiographies, I was convinced that my Master would show up out of nowhere one day, reveal Himself to me in grand fashion and whisk me off to the Himalayas for years of intense study, one-on-one.
I reached the ashram at 5:35 PM after a long day of travel and a nearly three-hour delay on the kaccha road. After registration at the front office, I eagerly made my way to the dorm, ready to take a shower and snuggle my tired body into the cozy blankets laid out thoughtfully. But of course, the airline had also thoughtfully stapled my bags shut and so, I had to go back to the front office to borrow a pair of scissors.
Priyanshu ji, the person in charge at the office, looked confused at my request. “Aren’t you going to the temple? It’s past 6:00 PM,” he said.
“Why?” I asked, equally confused. “Is there something happening?”
He looked at me, gobsmacked. “Don’t you want to see Swamiji?”
“Swamiji?” And then, it hit me. “Oh! Is His discourse starting?”
Having known Priyanshu ji for over a year now, I can imagine the response in his head. “Waah, kya dimaag hai!” But he simply smiled sweetly, politeness personified, and said, “Yes, and you can still make it because they haven’t shut the temple doors yet.”
And so, I hurried to the temple, stopped at the door by a volunteer giving out Kanthil to everyone. It was my first taste of this medical marvel and even today, when I pop one in my mouth, the taste and scent take me back to that evening, when I first entered the temple for the evening discourse. The hall was quiet and there was a heavy sense of anticipation in the air. The music playing over the speakers was beautiful, happy and reverent. I discovered a few days later that it was the Guru Paduka Stotram, a sloka in reverence of the Guru.
I sat down quietly and waited for Swamiji like one waits for a celebrity or a cricketer (India’s two staples, apparently) to make an appearance – with bated breath and anticipation but knowing that this is a one-off moment and not everyday life. This visit was just one stop along the way for me, through years of travel. After all, in my mind, my life was Maahi Ve from the Hindi movie, Highway – a constant search, picturesque locales, full of love and yearning with no idea of where home was.
Sri Badrika Ashram was but one such locale and seeing Swamiji, an experience I constructed out of curiousity, so that I may see the handsome monk whose memoir had driven me all the way here before I moved on.
Suddenly, there was shuffling all around the hall as everyone turned to face the doors. Understanding that He had arrived, I shrunk back a little, hiding behind peeping heads and winter coats. I wanted His reveal to be a grand one in my head, His face appearing over the crowd. I didn’t want to catch a glimpse of His foot or His robe first. It had to be His face.
And oh boy.
The crowd parted slightly. But to me, it felt like the Red Sea for Moses. He appeared through that gap, not just face, not just robe.
Face, body and robe. Showing me His entire self.
Smiling gently and nodding at everyone, He made His way to the front.
The singular thought running through my head was, “Oh my God, a spiritual celebrity! I’ve read His book and now here He is! He wrote that book. Wow!”
I was more in awe of the fact that I was finally seeing a somewhat famous person than the fact that He was Swamiji 🙂
I don’t remember much else of that evening. I don’t remember what Swamiji spoke about. When He sat down to sing the Aarthi though, I was struck by its melody and the distinct Western tune in an Indian prayer. Did I know that just a few days later, I would be weeping at the sheer beauty in the music and His voice?
Well… yes. The sentimental and soft streak runs deep 🙂
I resisted the fact that He had found me for a long time because my ego would not allow me to accept that there were to be no Himalayan sojourns in the wilderness, just my Master and me, Sri M style. Here was Swamiji, in solitude a large part of the time, with hundreds of devotees surrounding Him. Where was the romance, the adventure for me in such a scenario?
While the ego threw these questions at me, my soul knew. I’d known Him for so long, for so many lifetimes, how could He NOT be the One?
And so, even as a struggle ensued, over the next few days, something strange began to happen. Writing prose has always been an easy form of expression but I had never written poetry apart from the occasional joke poem for a friend’s birthday. But every night, when I settled down in the dorm, I would feel an urge to write. I’d pull out my phone, click on Notes, and instead of sentences, out flowed verse. In five minutes, a full-fledged poem would be sitting on my screen, leaving me both excited and bewildered. I’d written poetry, I’d written poetry!
But what was this poetry? I didn’t understand what I was writing about.
It was all in reverence of Him.
He couldn’t be my Master, could He? Why oh why had Nature brought me a Guru who did His work in silence, kept His interactions minimal and His physical form far away? Why had I read all those books which painted an illusory future? And most importantly, how did He not see me the first time and initiate me then and there since I was such a special, blessed being, meant only for the path? That I didn’t want to be initiated at that point meant little.
My ego was huge and its fantasies limitless. Humility was far out of my reach.
All these questions, doubts and angst would quieten every time I began to write. The truth would flow. But to accept the words that flowed through me took months.
Below is the first poem that I wrote, three days after first seeing Swamiji:
Your face, creased in eternal joy as you sing of Love Herself.
How was I, a mere speck, to know that You
were the Song, the Tune and the Essence?
You are Everything.
In everyone You live
come out to Dance only when called.
You are the Bliss
that everyone seeks
yet cannot recognize in Form.
You appear before our eyes
Witty, sonorous, joyous
Dark and Light.
You speak to us of Truth
When You are but its very Source.
Lead us out of this ignorance,
Show us our follies, our weaknesses
You are our Sun
The Way Out
The Way Back Home
And He did 🙂
The above is the first in a series of posts that I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks. Thank you for taking out a few minutes of your time to read these words 🙂 It makes me feel very grateful and happy!
PS: As I was reading through this post after writing it, I found myself hesitant in sharing it. Perhaps I should share the poem alone, I thought. Is everything else really necessary? Old insecurities began springing up.
Not two minutes later, I heard the boys from housekeeping, washing up after lunch. Laughing and joking, one of them burst into song.
“Maahi ve, maahi ve…
meri har baat mein saaath tu hai
Maahi ve, maahi ve!”
Coincidence? There are no coincidences.
All I heard was Bhagvan telling me to get over myself and just do it 🙂
Ye jeena bhi, naa jeena bhi,
hai dono ka tum se hi vaasta.
Main hi to hoon tera pataa,
hai doosra na koi raasta.
Aaye mujh tak woh tumko jo ho dhoondta.
Meri khamoshiyon mein hai tu bolta.
Yeh jeena bhi, na jeena bhi,
jo bhi hua hai woh tumse hua.