Jan 1, 1988
From a Zen master to a hatha-yogi to an “enlightened” psychology professor
a young man’s search for his guru.
During my college years, I had the idea to attain perfection. I started reading spiritual books and learned I needed a guru. So whenever I heard about a guru anywhere even a thousand miles away I would go to meet him.
One guru I met was a Zen master, supposedly enlightened and certified by another enlightened master in Japan. During a weekend camp at his asrama, he held meditation sessions in which everyone had to sit up very straight and look at the wall. concentrating on some object he would give us. The master walked around with a stick, and if he thought we were falling asleep or that our minds were wandering, he’d hit us. After one such session, some of his students asked him about his becoming angry recently. “Yes, it’s true,” he said. “I lost my temper; I shouldn’t have.” I started to doubt whether he was my guru. But because I had read that a Zen master is supposed to appear ordinary, I thought, “Maybe this is part of it.” Later he came to Boston. After his talk and demonstration, someone in the audience asked about Vedanta. “I have enough trouble keeping up with Zen. How do you expect me to know about Vedanta?” I thought, “He’s not my perfect master.”
Then a hatha-yogi came to Brandeis University, near Boston, where I was a student. He had long hair and a beard and flowing robes. He said that by yoga you could attain complete mastery over your bowels: “Ascending colon, advance! Transverse colon, advance! Descending colon, advance!” and finally, “Rectum, pass!” I was really looking for a guru, so I thought, “Anyway, maybe.” From the university he went to the airport, and I drove there with some of his students to see him off. There he was long, flowing hair, beard, draping orange robes, a flower in his hair, a twinkle in his eyes the very picture of Indian spirituality. But on seeing him embracing his women disciples, I thought, “Well, maybe he’s not the perfect master. I have to keep looking.”One guru I met was a Zen master, supposedly enlightened and certified by another enlightened master in Japan. During a weekend camp at his asrama, he held meditation sessions in which everyone had to sit up very straight and look at the wall. concentrating on some object he would give us. The master walked around with a stick, and if he thought we were falling asleep or that our minds were wandering, he’d hit us. After one such session, some of his students asked him about his becoming angry recently. “Yes, it’s true,” he said. “I lost my temper; I shouldn’t have.” I started to doubt whether he was my guru. But because I had read that a Zen master is supposed to appear ordinary, I thought, “Maybe this is part of it.” Later he came to Boston. After his talk and demonstration, someone in the audience asked about Vedanta. “I have enough trouble keeping up with Zen. How do you expect me to know about Vedanta?” I thought, “He’s not my perfect master.”
Then I heard of an enlightened soul, a professor of psychology at a progressive university. I wanted to see him immediately. It was a Friday no classes the next day so I drove for many hours. With great anticipation and eagerness I inquired about the professor. He was playing golf. “Playing golf? I thought he was supposed to be enlightened.” “That is his Zen,” was the reply.
The campus was full of people interested in spiritual life. Some students started to tell me about a guru who had visited the campus recently. He had said, “The guru is in the heart, where he sits on a lotus flower.” From what they said I got a very strong impression that there is a divine personality in our hearts with whom we can have a sublime, personal relationship. I became very eager to meet him.
I had gotten the idea from reading books that you don’t have to find the guru or choose him; he is already there. I even had a mental picture of what he looked like and my guru didn’t have hair. All the other swamis and yogis had long hair and beards, so I was thinking, “How am I ever going to meet my guru?”
One day I saw a poster on campus announcing that Swami Bhaktivedanta would be speaking on Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Although I was supposed to go to the movies that night, I wanted to hear Swami Bhaktivedanta. My friends were saying, “Why can’t you be normal like other people? Why do you always have to chase after these swamis?” I really didn’t want to disappoint them, so I tried to go along with their idea. But there was something inside me that kept forcing me to go to the lecture. Finally I said, “Okay, this will be the last one I go to.”
My friends reluctantly came along, but because we’d been arguing, we arrived at the auditorium late and missed the lecture. Srila Prabhupada was still sitting on the stage, and Satsvarupa was leading the chanting of Hare Krsna. The devotees were also onstage, dancing in ecstasy in a circle. Some of the students in the auditorium jumped onto the stage and joined in. I also felt like going up, but I knew my friends wouldn’t approve.
When the kirtana ended, the devotees announced that they needed a lift to Harvard Square in Boston. Since the movie was at Harvard Square, I invited them to ride with us, and everyone piled into my station wagon. Satsvarupa was squeezed in the back compartment with my best friend. They were discussing philosophy, my friend declaring that everything is void, and Satsvarupa insisting that there is no void in the creation of God.
When we got to Harvard Square, I let the devotees out. But as I was driving away, I realized I didn’t know how to get in touch with them. I immediately stopped the car in the middle of Harvard Square and ran after them. I caught up to one of the devotees. “I want to meet the Swami,” I said. He told me I could come, and he would try to arrange an appointment. An appointment? I thought, A guru isn’t supposed to be busy! . . .”Well, anyway, okay, give me the address.”
Meanwhile, about twenty cars had lined up behind mine and were honking their horns. I quickly noted the address of the temple. “Come at seven tomorrow night,” he said.
The small temple room was already packed when I arrived. Srila Prabhupada began speaking. Because I wasn’t used to his Bengali accent and because the philosophy was new to me, I had difficulty understanding. But I did hear him say that out of many thousands of men, one will seek perfection. I thought, “That’s me!”
Srila Prabhupada asked for questions. I raised my hand. “There are so many swamis and masters, and each one is recommending a different method of self-realization and saying his is best. How do I know which is actually best?”
Prabhupada responded, “What is your goal? Do you want to serve God, or do you want to become God? If you want to become God, it means that now you are not God. So how can not-God become God? God is God. He is always God. He never has to become God by practicing yoga or meditation. Krsna is God. He’s God when He’s playing on the lap of mother Yasoda. He’s God when He’s speaking Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. God is God.”
Then he said, “The real guru teaches that God is in your heart and that you can become godly but that you cannot become God.”
As Srila Prabhupada spoke, I got the clear impression that he knew everything about me and was seeing right into my apartment, right to the sign on the wall where I had engraved in very ornate lettering YOU ARE GOD.
Srila Prabhupada said gravely, “What do you think? Do you want to serve God, or do you want to become God?” I was just about to lie, but then I said, “I want to serve God, but I realize that actually I wanted to become God.” Srila Prabhupada affirmed emphatically, “Yes!” I offered my obeisances. I knew that he was my spiritual master.
A devotee then brought a huge plate of prasadam to Srila Prabhupada. “I’m not God; I cannot eat all of this,” quipped Prabhupada. He took a little bit and told the devotee to distribute the rest.
From that first meeting, my whole life’s purpose became to bring people to meet Srila Prabhupada. I was able to do that for many years, but when Srila Prabhupada passed away, I was wondering, “What will be my service now?” because my whole service had been to bring people to Srila Prabhupada.
Now I understand that Srila Prabhupada is always present, and that by speaking of him, hearing about him. remembering him, and, most significantly, by studying his books, we can experience his presence. So I can continue doing what I was doing when he was personally present introducing souls to Srila Prabhupada and that is what I feel natural doing. Because I know that somehow or other, if someone comes in touch with Srila Prabhupada, his life will be successful.