Strictness Has Its Limitations
My meditating friends wanted to go out for dinner. As usual, it had to be Indian food: lentils and dahl with a cup of chai. I said, 'I'm feeling like spaghetti, with a glass of chianti.' They looked at me the way kosher rabbis look at a ham.
I don't wear rudhraksha beads anymore. My wife doesn't wear a sari. To me, a red dot on your forehead is no holier than a zit. When fundamentalists reject anything that isn't in the Bible, we think them terribly narrow. Why isn't it just as narrow when New Age folks insist that everything has to be Indian to be holy?
I love India and I love to chant krishna bhajans. I love France and I love to sing Gregorian chant. I even love Wyoming. There's a place in the Big Horn mountains, you have to hike in a few miles from the highway, with an ancient stone circle where tribes used to meet and make peace. That place is as sacred as Chartres Cathedral or Rishikesh. Did I mention 'Amazing Grace'? Why is that any less a mantra than 'Om Namah Shivayah'?
My dearest friend, much younger than I, was one of the first Americans trained by Guruji to teach the Art of Living. He was living the holiest, strictest life of discipline, and he once confided in me that he really missed tuna fish sandwiches. I said, 'Why don't you just eat one?' He couldn't. But sometimes strictness has its limitations: he died of cancer quite young...
And my dear mother recently died so gracefully at 92, full and ripe and ready to go. She was always talking about how she would hook up with Dad again when she was in heaven. But just before she died, she said, 'I think when I get over there, I'll look up one of my old beau's. I'm not sure I want to settle down with you father again. He was too strict.' Now that's getting free!
When I see my beloved Guruji, I don't do that Indian jazz anymore: like praying hands or bowing my forehead down to touch his foot. That just creates distance. Instead, I give him a big smile and wave from across the room. He smiles back and wings a Hershey's candy kiss at me - really hard. It hits my chest and opens a chocolate wound of Bhakti. Later, I hug him. Once he threw snow in my face. And once, at the end of a strenuous silence course on which I had been particularly naughty, he slapped me - really hard. I took it as punishment, with no thought that it might be shaktipat. The next two hours my cheek burned hotter and hotter.
Then everything burst and all boundaries melted into golden honey. This didn't happen at some groovy ashram in India. It happened in the streets of L.A. and the airport and then in downtown Tacoma. It lasted for two days, everything saturated, dissolving into honey. 'Layam vraja', says a line in the Upanishads. 'Dissolve now!' Dissolve into the terrible sweetness of 'samana-chitta-yoga': the one same divine consciousness shining everywhere. Man, that is fierce! The sidewalks made of honey, smokestacks of honey, taxis of honey, homeless sad alcoholics made of honey lined up to receive honey from the honey ladies at St. Mary's Catholic honey kitchen. Yourself, the Guru, the statue of Krishna, the steaming pile of German shepherd poop next to a fire hydrant, all made of exactly the same golden honey! We humans can't handle such ruthless egalitarian sweetness. Guess that's what Blake meant when he said, 'We are put here for a little space to learn to bear the beams of love...'
Boundaries, whatever they separate - nations, religions, races, classes, creme brule from lentil dahl, beer from chai - boundaries are all like parentheses drawn in air, by a finger that only exists in your imagination. Boundaries are there to give us something to dance with. We dance with boundaries just to enhance the splendor of the gold they're all made of. In themselves, the boundaries have no more lasting existence than waves on the ocean.
Let's not forget that the ripples in which we frolic appear to be individual waves, but they are made of each other. And just beneath them, eternally, is the ocean of still, unfathomable, golden silence.
That's what I see in the crowds on the Washington Mall as they gather to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama: black, brown, gay, straight, Hindu, Christian and agnostic, all dissolved into one amber e pluribus unum.