John was only semi-conscious, as he felt the swaying of the ‘Palaki’ as four men carried him on their shoulders up the mountain. The late summer heat of the Gangetic plain, had fallen as the train and bus journey, had brought him higher into the Himalayas. Steve had stayed with him and made all the arrangements. When John had become severely dehydrated, from his stomach virus, Steve had decided to move him to his Baba’s Ashram, away from the squalor and filth of New Delhi. Delhi had been a stepping stone, for their larger travels across India, Nepal and Bhutan.
Steve had been studying Hinduism and Buddhism in the sub-continent for a decade. He had been brought up by two Peace Corps Workers, in rural Wisconsin in a small town in suburban Madison. His parents were both teachers in the High School and had gone and worked in Guatemala, and later South Africa, as part of their work, on improving productivity in farming. Coming from hardy Swedish and Irish farming families, who fell in love in School, it had been a very good life. They were eternally grateful, to President Kennedy for allowing them to see the world, outside their secure existence.
Steve had gone on driven by their thirst for knowledge to excel in his High School and then go to Harvard, on a basketball\merit scholarship. He excelled in Chemistry and loved Organic chemistry like his Father, who had a Masters from Yale. It was a chance encounter with Baba Ram Dass at a summer music festival, where he spoke about bhakti. He sat there mesmerized by this white clothed simple balding man, speaking about his life after Harvard, some decades back. Dr. Richard Albert had transformed his life, and seemed to glow with an inner peace. He spoke about his experience of the divine and left Steve deeply moved, with more questions; than he could answer, that night.
After finishing Harvard at the top of his class, Steve told his parents that he was going to follow in Ram Dass’ footsteps and go to India. He had taken courses on Indian Philosophy and Buddhism as minors in Harvard and become even more confused. He decided to go there and see for himself if bhakti might finally save him, from his inner demons. His parents were sorry to see him go, but encouraged him to go out and see the real world. He talked to them about Maya and the shifting reality of our consciousness. His Karma was destined for India and Steve was on the search for meaning, in his existence, from the ancient treatises. He had studied in the old tomes and libraries available in museums and colleges in America. He became immersed in his research, as if to fill some strange inner longing for peace.
Steve was enrolled in the Sanskrit program at The Banaras Hindu University, as he wanted to be able to learn the basics. He had studied the alphabet and was just starting to read, on his own. He moved to the ancient city and became fascinated by the temples, the Ganges Ghats and the university work, kept him very busy. He started to venture out with his new fiends and listened to many discourses. Slowly the rhymed shlokas, and the interpretation of the ancient rishis, began to form a new language, in his head. Six months became a year as he visited all the ancient schools, and learnt about the varied castes and sub castes of the Hindus, and their myriad belief’s in the city. He found the Upanishad’s fascinating, and studies many of them under local scholars, as the name implied.
After a year he went back home, and found that nothing much had changed. He grew restless in a month of summer barbeques, and church gatherings. He’d told his parents that he was going back, to visit the monasteries in Nepal and Bhutan. He needed to understand the Buddhist book of the dead, and see the true traditions, himself. The powerful idea of salvation, or Nirvana, and freedom from our karma; pulled him like a magnet, across time and space. This time he had even less communications back home, and for three years they only heard from Steve, when he was not at a remote location, studying ancient scriptures. He continued to brush up his Sanskrit and now the newly acquired Pali in addition to the English, Afrikaans and Spanish that his parents had taught him. He found the Buddha’s original sermons far more compelling, than the many interpretations he had heard.
He had bumped into John a few months back and he was from outside Tacoma in Washington State and they had become friendly. John had an unsatisfied curiosity about everything in life. He had a fervor and a passion, to see around the next corner, and most of all, he had an infectious loud laugh. Steve had not laughed much in the past years, and John would always find something amusing and could bring humor, even in the worst situations. He would slap Steve on the back and say, “Come on Steve, lighten up will ya, this life is much more fun, than what you make of it. Live, learn, and enjoy, is my motto. All this is made, for us to partake, and be happy.”
When Steve mumbled some ancient Shloka, he would just chant the one mantra I had taught him. He would raise his arms to the heavens and say “Come Steve my friend, let us become universal spirits, and I promise you that this universe will be with us. It will provide us all that we need, to enjoy and be happy! My Grand aunt left me some money, made by our ancestors, in the logging business, and now I am learning to make amends.” John lived simply and Steve was helping him in exploring homes of the destitute and dying, and some girls education organizations, which could use his help. They had also visited Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai to see the actual work being done by these organizations.
The light attracted him at first. It was different from the light he had seen earlier. The first time it was as if he was following a long tunnel, which led to the light. On the other side awaited his final savior, was what he had felt.
This new light he felt was a different light, it was a light of hope. The light before was taking him to his final resting place, but some other force had suddenly intervened. In his weakened state John saw that the more he turned to it, the new light drew him even closer. The next thing he heard was the soft chant of the Mahamantra of Bhakthi slowly whispered in his ear. “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna.” The chords were primordial, whispered by some ancient power, and John was lost, in rapture as it appeared to fight Kama, or death itself. John felt this new light and sound saving him from an evil power. Slowly the darkness of the tunnel disappeared and he emerged into the open light and found the sound was real and not his imagination.
The light when he opened his eyes, was that of a lamp over his bedside. Steve looked down beamed a big smile, to see John’s open eyes. He was hooked up to an IV lying on clean white sheets. Everything in the room seemed white, as if he was in another world from what he remembered in India. The mantra changed to a Meera Bhajan where in her devotional song, she asked Krishna to stop playing hide and seek. She begged him, to reveal himself, to her. He seemed to feel a feeling of love, grow around him, as if Meera and Krishna were here, with him. He suddenly felt like smiling, as if he was reborn.
John looked into two of the most intense dark brown eyes, he had ever seen, peering steadily at him, as if into his very soul. He could not look away, and it were the eyes, that were also making the sound of the Bhajan. He was mesmerized by the vibrations of sound, and the eyes seemed to be pouring the very life forces, into him. The warmth of life and hope, seemed to flow back, into his veins and his heart. The Guru looked up at Steve and smiled. “He will be fine now, the danger is over. I have to go now there are others waiting.”
Steve bowed low with folded hands and wished John a speedy recovery. “Jai Hanuman!” he whispered after his Guru and then gathered his robes and followed him out leaving John to rest and recover.
John closed his eyes and the tunnel and lights were gone. In its place now there was a benign darkness. He felt the kernels of compassion and love rise within him, and his devotion growing, like Meera’s. All his doubts disappeared. In this stillness, he had not felt this completeness, before, and he slept.
I am merely a guest,
born in the world
to know the secrets that
lie beyond it.