Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Walk to Remember

Baja, Mexico; view from the cliff of our traditional Bus Tour campsite

Early Memories of My Guru: A Walk to Remember

I was seventeen on the second morning of my first ever Bus Tour in 2004, and I was one of the first to roll out of my bunk. When I emerged from the bus in my pajamas in the cool, gray morning, I stood on a cliff in Mexico which overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The ocean soared into the horizon, and the empty, epic beach far below disappeared into misty cliffs in the distance.

The night before, I had heard on the wind that some of the boys were going on a japa walk with Radhanath Swami along the beach. Secretly, I had planned to jump in.

But in deep dismay, a hundred yards away I saw a flash of orange and several boys hasten to the stairs in the cliff that led down to the beach. I felt this panic to run after them, shouting, "Wait! Wait for me!"

I even grabbed my japa mala and began to sprint after them, but they disappeared down the stairs and I lost my courage. “I’m a girl,” I grumbled. “A girl! If only I was a boy. If only.”

I trudged back to our cluster of tents and paced the quiet campsite. I saw the tiny figures of Radhanath Swami and the boys emerge from the cliffs below and become black dots in the distance.

I paced and paced the site, anxious. Finally, I decided that I just wanted to go on a japa walk, that’s all. Maybe not with the others, but at least by myself. That’s all. You know, just chant

I set off for the cliff stairs.

While I walked barefoot along where the ocean meets the sand, I chanted and fell into a trance of meditation on the waves, and Lord Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad Gita: “Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds.”

A mile into my japa walk, I looked up. There, in the distance, shrouded by the ocean mist, approached four or five figures.

I grinned.

I spun on my heel and began to meander back where I had just walked. Slowly, slooowly

“Haribol, Bhakti!” I heard a voice.

I looked over. “Radhanath Swami! Well, Haribol! Good morning.” Fancy seeing you here. Several boys from the bus tour who hovered around him looked at me a bit reproachfully, as if they knew exactly what I was up to. Suddenly I realized I was in my pajama skirt, my long hair loose down my back.

“Would you like to join us?” Radhanath Swami asked.

“Yes, of course!” I replied. I grinned and joined their group. The boys looked annoyed.

“Maharaj?” I said.


“I… I have a question.”

Right there, where the ocean met the sand, Radhanath Swami stopped in his tracks and turned to look me straight in the eye. I halted, too, surprised. The group of boys fell back and chanted at a distance.

I remember that my question dealt with the ocean, and I remember how his answer dealt with the mercy of Srila Prabhupad. But what I remember most was how the waves kept washing over our feet as we spoke, the gulls looping in the sky above, and the intense presence of Radhanath Swami, and how he seemed as if he had all the time in the world to answer my question.

We were alone, yet we were not alone. And in those moments, it didn't matter whether I was a boy or I was a girl. I was simply a soul seeking shelter.

When at last Radhanath Swami asked, “Does that answer your question?” I nodded. He smiled softly. Then he quickly turned on his heel, gestured to the boys, and we all briskly began to walk along the ocean in silence, chanting.

When we reached the base of the cliff where the stairs lead up to our campsite, Radhanath Swami sat in the sand, and we all followed suit. Our little group chanted together there on the beach as the sun rose on the ocean.

At that time (and now, as well) japa was my weak point, but every once and awhile I would glance over to Radhanath Swami and observe how he chanted japa with such power. I would then return to my own chanting with vigor.

The sun filled the air with gold and glinted off the ocean when I heard Radhanath Swami and the boys rise to their feet. I didn’t want to go, so I continued to sit, eyes closed. Maybe if they saw my concentration, they would just head back without me. But then I heard, “Bhakti devi, let’s go,” I looked up to the smile of Maharaj.

I stood up. Maharaj led all of us through the sand, and I fell in right behind him. I hopped from his footprint to footprint, catching his mercy, hoping to follow in his footsteps.

The following year, in 2005, the next time I sought out the association of Radhanath Swami, I took shelter of him as my spiritual master. I pray to follow in his footsteps.


Rasikananda Das said...

Thank you for bringing me back to that day. I'm sorry I missed that walk, but through your thoughtful memories and courage to share them, you've brought that chance to be there again and remind me of what it's like being with our loving Spiritual Master. I only hope to never take those moments for granted again.

Mark said...

With Radhanath Swami Maharaj I feel I experience first hand the power of a milliseconds association with a pure devotee.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.