MY LIFE IS NOT A STORY, IT’S AN EXPERIENCE
A simple roller coaster without direction
Two days stand out, personally, in my life; my birth, January 8, 1952 and my rebirth, May 24, 1993. On these two days I celebrate; one, by my coming into this world and two, the beginning of my purpose. There may be some ambiguity in this statement, but this is what I know to be the truth.
I was born into a household that included my parents, a Roman Catholic father and a Presbyterian mother. T heir roles were to offer me a way forward so that I could be a success in the future and be of help to them and my siblings, along the way. Their guidance, encouragement, and protection allowed me to navigate the pathway of life and to be who I am, professionally and otherwise. However, my life was just a simple roller coaster without direction. Education, marriage, progeny, property ownership and worldly attributes were that way of life. Happiness was beyond those things.
In 1972, after searching for the elusive ‘Godhead’ I found myself at a crossroad. There were many parts leading from my perspective and I clearly needed to follow one. Finally, I choose the path to Sanatana Dharma, because I saw concentricity in its principles. It showed a clear pathway ‘from the womb to the tomb’. It had a karmic philosophy which did not adhere to the western way of thoughts. I embraced this and was initiated into the bosom of Hinduism. However, till today I am still having conflicts with the ‘isms’.
Somewhere during this search I got married and went off to the US to indulge myself in academia. This new found society was void of spirituality, but it was rich in religion. Again, I was thrown into a revolving door between these two philosophies. There was a new found life, new friends, new associates and of course, new indulgences. And although I tried to rationalize with myself I felt caught up in the ride.
The apparition in the sky; THE VOICE
On the 26 day of April 1986, I was sitting at a friend’s house in Fort Benning, Georgia having my usual drink, Barcadi rum and a beer as a chaser. It was spring and the sky was as blue as you can imagine, not a cloud in the sky. I was at a wedding reception which I had organized for a fellow Trinidadian student. Anyway, as I was putting the glass to my mouth with my head raised, I noticed an apparition appearing in the sky in front of me. Out of nowhere a cloud formation was taking place. In wonderment, I stopped the drink with the glass still to my head, just to observe what was taking place. Then, I saw a fist sticking out of the cloud and a fore finger beckoning to me, “That is your last drink”. That voice was as clear as any other sound that I have heard.
At Auburn University there were many South-Asian students and we all stuck together. The voice which I heard was not on par with any of my associates, but very distinctive, more like a concerned father, but with an accent. I ruled this as a figment of my imagination and continued with my drink. Then, to my astonishment, some of the people who were partying in the back yard started to come to where I was sitting. I didn’t know what was happening, but I remember telling them that that was my last drink. They all laughed and dared me.
Soul –searching in Trinidad
I cannot complain as I had a good life then. There were ups and downs, but things were good for me. After this incident I was flung headstrong into an abyss and lost all sense of direction. Three months later, by the end of July, 1986, I returned to Trinidad with my family and that direction changed. I was assigned to teach at The San Fernando Technical Institute.
When I returned to Trinidad I stayed in the village where I grew up and where most of my siblings still live. Then, in 1988, for unknown reasons, I wanted to move to Chaguanas. Here I was able to attend and take part in temple services. Without seeking out anything I was getting involved in many activities and functions in the Hindu community. This was a deep soul searching period for me; it was as if I was trying to identify the self.
During my tenure at the Institute I had many students, but two students stood out. These students would talk with confidence about their ‘Guru’ and what a great personality He was. However, I was not in the least interested in what they had to say. One of my students, in particular, was very intact in his belief and knowledge of this ‘Guru’ and no amount of castigation swayed him.
Unasked for, I was now a teetotaler and without reasoning I was slowly becoming a vegetarian. My psyche then moved me to reading spiritual and scriptural texts. One book, in particular that had a riveting impact on me was the ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahamsa Yogananda, that cosmic acolyte. Swami Yogananda’s concept of the ‘Truth’ was a great turning point for me.
My spouse, at that time, came from a very conservative Hindu family and upbringing. And although she was instrumental in my spiritual growth, she did not push it on me. She allowed me to ride my own course. The decisions I took for my growth were purely my own. I wanted to know ‘who I am’.
Not in control
On a bright Sunday morning in May 1993, my spouse asked me to accompany the family to the temple as Swamiji was coming tomorrow. She had been taking the children to this temple for music lessons and other group settings activities. I really had no interest in going anywhere, but for some reason I was ready to go before they were. She was surprised and confused !
My entry into the temple was uneventful, lots of people were in attendance and many activities were taking place. I was bemused that instead of a murti, the congregants were doing aarti to a photo of the Swami. They all seemed very happy. I wondered if this was the elusive ‘happiness’ I was seeking.
At the end of the program, one of the priests was at the microphone asking for help to prepare the place for the celebrations that were to take place in the coming days. I was caught in a whirlwind and couldn’t figure out what was going on. It felt like a rudderless ship. Because of my construction background, I volunteered to help. For the first time in my life I felt that I was not in control of my actions. I left there late in the evening with a promise to return the next day to continue volunteering.
Feeling of belonging, experiencing miracles
During this time I had a construction business with partners. The girls in my office were asking about my excitement in wanting to leave early to go to the temple, as they would normally leave me working. Anyway, I went to the temple as scheduled and all the guys from the previous day were already there. I got involved in the works that were going on. Somehow, I felt as though I belonged here. With all these thoughts going through my head I was apprised that ‘The Guru’ of the temple would be arriving later that evening, but I had no interest in seeing or meeting ‘Him’. I had learnt that ‘work alone was worship’ so my interest was wholly in getting the work done. But, I was experiencing miracles after miracles, even in this short space of time.
At some point I heard a lot of commotion, people were running helter-schelter. One member was rolling on the ground holding his stomach and screaming while a senior member of the executive was openly crying like a child. I lifted my head to observe a single flame, the size of my finger, shooting straight up into the sky from over the kitchen. The amazing thing was that this flame was as straight as an arrow although the wind was slightly blowing. It is then I realized that the makeshift kitchen, which was hurriedly constructed for the celebrations, was on fire.
Ironically, earlier I was thinking to myself that all these people were simply speaking about their love for their ‘Guru’ and this was the kitchen where they were going to feed ‘His’ devotees! After the fire, we had the task to rebuild the kitchen in a proper manner. This task was accomplished within a few hours and before Swamiji’s arrival. To the amazement of those who went to the airport to receive ‘His Holiness’, Sri Swamiji asked them, “How was the fire?”. When I heard this refrain it validated a conviction. Darshan in the new kitchen
Then came Tuesday, May 24, 1993. Sri Swamiji arrived on Monday night, but I had already left for the evening. As I previously stated, I had no interest in seeing or meeting Him. On Tuesday I came back to the temple to continue with my volunteering. I was standing in the now newly constructed kitchen with the kitchen manager discussing what we could do as no other members had yet come to help. Then, on the newly poured concrete walkway, from the corner of my eye, I saw a few people walking towards the kitchen and amongst them was the photo that I saw the previous day. The full size, live photo was walking towards where I was standing and looking directly at me.
I was dumbstruck for a while, but I gathered my composure and reverentially bowed to ‘Him’. Then I sheepishly lifted my head while squinting my eyes to get a glimpse of ‘Him’. I saw ‘Him’ smiling while shifting His head to the right; the exact way that Swami Yogananda expressed when He met His Guru, Sri Yutkeshwara. It was though I was flying through time and space. At that point, I knew that I had met ‘My Guru’. When I realized that ‘He Is’, I opened my eyes and He asked me, “How are you” and “What is your name?” I answered however I could, because I was completely blown away!
That Voice again
Later, I attended the evening program and sat to the back of the hall, I wanted to hear His voice again, because I knew that I had heard that voice before. The session was inclusive of Bhajans and discourse. However, that voice kept swirling in my head. Then, it dawned on me that was the exact voice that told me “That is your last drink,” almost seven years ago.
Now, I live my life with only the thoughts of ‘The Guru’; no family, no inheritance, no academic pursuits, no time, no space, no thoughts of the past or the future. I stay in the present with the full knowledge that ‘HE’ is.
Sri Guru Datta.