The Indian Poet Kabir Said
Remembering the Illusion
One day when we Westerners had been sent to the rear of the temple grounds, as was usual during the day, I decided (for sentimental reasons) to go upstairs in the building I had lived in in 1967 and sit in my old room. One of the windows of this room looked over the wall into the front part of the temple, which was otherwise not visible from the back. As I idly looked out one of these windows, my attention was caught by a sight that transfixed me at the window but also made me stand well back, so that I could not be observed from outside.
Down below, at the window of Maharaji’s room, a devotee who worked in the temple and served often as our translator was crying profusely. He was obviously talking to Maharaji. Then he got up and walked back toward the rear of the temple, still in tears. When he was gone from view, Maharaji appeared in his doorway and came out into the courtyard. He stood looking like a mad lion or elephant and thought I couldn’t hear him it was obvious that he was yelling and turning this way and that with great fury. Everyone in the front courtyard seemed to be cowering. It didn’t seem “dharmic” to me. Maharaji had, after all, specifically said to me that a saint never gets angry.
Feelings of betrayal rushed through me, for here was Maharaji obviously in a rage. So he wasn’t a saint either. What kind of guru was this? He said one thing and did another. I myself now became enraged and felt, for the first time since 1967, my heart turning cold toward Maharaji; and the thought came to me that apparently, I’d have to leave Maharaji and go it alone. I stumbled back downstairs, deeply disappointed, and sat with the others but said nothing. Later I learned that right after the scene that I had witnessed, Maharaji apparently walked back into his room, called Dada, and in a very conversational tone asked, “Did Ram Dass see me get angry?” Dada said he didn’t think so. But Maharaji insisted that I had and sent him back with a message. When Dada found me sitting sullenly, he said, “Maharaji wants to know if you saw him get angry.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, he said to tell you that if you have any questions they will be answered later,” And he left.
A few moments later the crying devotee appeared, bag in hand, to tell us that he had been banished from the temple, supposedly, as we later learned, for letting forty pounds of potatoes go bad in the storeroom. He said tearful goodbyes and left. Now this fellow was not particularly competent, and though he was sweet he was rather a nuisance. Normally I would not have been unhappy to see him go, for he was constantly trying to ingratiate himself with the Westerners. Under these circumstances, however, I suddenly felt compelled to support the underdog. I got up and followed him out to the front of the temple. Just going out to the front unbidden was already an act of insurrection. And as this crestfallen fellow was leaving the temple gate I purposely went up to him, embraced him, and gave him some money and a note with my address in Delhi if he needed anything. Then as he left I walked defiantly back through the temple, like the showdown scene from the movie “High Noon”. Everyone realized that I had sided against Maharaji.
All day I waited, but no clarification was forthcoming. As usual, we were not called to the front of the temple until a few minutes before the departure of the last bus. At the time one of the couples was having some marital difficulties, and Maharaji spoke directly to them. He said they must see God in each other and give up their anger. I sneered inside, remembering the scene I had just witnessed. Then he paraphrased the words of Kabir: “Do what you do with another person, but never put him out of your heart,” and as he spoke he looked directly and forcefully at me. The words burned into my heart and I heard them in a moment as applying to the married couple, to Maharaji’s behavior with the devotee, and to my own reactions to the scene I had witnessed. Once again I had gotten caught in the melodrama and had forgotten to remember the illusion – and behind it, the love. He never said anything else about this incident, which made what he did say all the more powerful.