My Tray of Hors D'oeuvres Is Empty
I have been a student of Prem Rawat (AKA Maharaji) since 1971.
For the past 41 years, inspired by the feeling of deep peace and gladness he has awakened in me, I have been attempting -- in various unsuccessful ways -- to describe who he is.
In the beginning, my descriptions were extremely effusive. Borderline inflated, you might say, and tinged with a hint of the zealot -- not unlike the poetry of one in love for the first time and badly in need of an editor.
Charming? For sure. Engaging? You bet. Attention getting? That, too. But also confusing to anyone sincerely wanting to understand what the big deal was all about.
In time, like wine, I've mellowed, no longer ruled by the need to label, define, and explain. It's a game I choose not to play any more.
What does Maharaji say when people ask him who he is? "Just a human being -- a mirror that helps people see their true reflection at that moment in time." This has been my experience completely. Allow me to be more specific...
The year was 1983 and I was living in Los Angeles.
Although I had enjoyed some wonderfully casual moments with Maharaji throughout the years, most of my contact with him had been at big programs, him on stage, me straining to see from the mezzanine, wondering how to get a better seat. Like most of his students I wanted "special" time with him, away from the crowds.
And so when a friend asked me to be a waiter at a party he was throwing for his neighbors I jumped at the chance. I rented the outfit. I shined my shoes. I showed up early. Nobody but my mother could have guessed I wasn't a waiter by profession.
And then, with a signal from the caterer, my adventure began -- silver tray of hors d'oeuvres in my left hand -- spreading out with the rest of the waiters among the guests, each according to our designated areas.
The first thing I saw was Maharaji.
Technically speaking, he wasn't in my "area," but since none of the other waiters were approaching him, I decided to fill the void. This was my chance, I reasoned -- especially since I hadn't talked to him for three years.
"Hors d'oeuvre?" I asked, extending my tray of goodies in his direction.
Maharaji pulled his head back, looked away, and extended his hand in a slow, downward motion as if to say, "Keep that thing away from me!"
I smiled and continued on my way, wondering if his refusal had any kind of cosmic significance. Was it me or the pizza puffs? Was he seeing some deep, ancient flaw in me? Was I hopelessly uncool?
Fortunately, the day was too beautiful to obsess on my thoughts for long and so I kept moving until I located my area in the field behind his house.
From where I was now positioned, there were absolutely no sight lines to the party, no chance to see, I thought, Maharaji. The only thing interesting to look at was the ocean and the sky.
And so it was: Every 10 minutes or so a few guests would make their way back to my area, surprised to see a waiter, umbrella in one hand, tray in the other, standing in a field so far from the party.
It took about ten guests to empty my tray. After that I would head back to the waiters' shed for refills. This must have happened at least 20 times during the day and each time it did, Maharaji would somehow enter my field of vision -- standing, talking, eating, walking, and doing all the things that a person does at a party. And though I could never predict what he was going to be doing when I saw him, I could predict the feeling I would have.
"Jazzed" is how I would describe it. Pumped. Buzzed. Blissed. I was a curious hybrid of boy seeing Santa and a Grateful Dead groupie with a lifetime back stage pass.
"It's "him," I would think to myself again and again. "Him!"
This little scene played itself out several times during the day. I could have gone on like this forever. But then something curious happened.
About the 20th time I saw him, I felt nothing. Zero. Nada. Zilch. An unwelcome sense of normalcy began to take me over. Seeing him was suddenly no big deal. I wasn't awed. I wasn't amazed. Neither was I captivated, astounded, excited, glad, grateful, inspired, delighted, or energized.
I wasn't anything.
My concept of Maharaji was being deconstructed before my eyes. My "mental model" wasn't working. Something I had counted on for years -- that seeing him would always be uplifting -- was no longer operational.
Was it him? Was it me? Was it both of us? Neither? Something else?
One conclusion I could have easily drawn was that Maharaji was nothing special -- a Wizard of Oz made great only by my own neurotic projections.
Yes, if I wanted proof that he was nothing but my own self-invented hype, now I had it. But having received Knowledge from him 12 years earlier and having experienced the many benefits of his guidance in my life, I could not bail out at such a simplistic conclusion.
Something else was clearly going on.
Looking back, my 'buzzless' series of waitering moments at Maharaji's party felt like the unceremonial end of my extended honeymoon with him -- that formerly delightful time of spiritual romance in which I had been protected from (or blinded to) the moments in which one's "significant other" does not appear very extraordinary.
In marriages, this either marks the beginning or the end of the painful acceptance of the apparent mundane -- the time when the husband no longer seems heroic and the wife is no longer recognized as goddess.
It was confronting to admit it, but the part of my relationship to Maharaji that I had fabricated was becoming undone. Without knowing it, I had become a fan and a groupie in addition to being a student.
Like my previous strategy in my personal life of creating short-term love affairs to keep me feeling studly, I had been orchestrating my relationship with Maharaji to provide well-timed payoffs. Did it work? Yes it did. But it went only so far.
I was not alone.
In my experience, lots of Maharaji's students have set him up in this way. Ruled by the very human need to define and categorize, we turned him into many things: a superstar, a hero, an Avatar, an anthropomorphized version of our own private God -- projecting all kinds of images on him, not unlike small children do with their parents or teachers.
Inevitably, this leads to disappointment. Which leads to doubt. Which leads to anger. And it is this anger, born from the gap between who he is and who we imagine him to be, that is often the reason why some students of Maharaji eventually reject him.
"He is not who I thought he was," they claim. And of course it is true, because, in many ways, it is impossible to know Maharaji (or anyone else for that matter) through the medium of thought.
More relationships are ruined, I believe, by expectations than by anything else.
Husbands do it to their wives. Wives do it to their husbands. Parents do it to their kids. The Master/Student relationship is no exception. Somehow we get it into our heads that a Master has to be a certain way.
Casting directors in our own "B" movie, we patch together our favorite stereotypes and create a picture of how the Master should be -- and then proceed to compare everything he does to that picture.
Of course, we're going to be disappointed. How could it be any other way?
The alternative? Live and let live. Be who you are and let Maharaji be who he is. Give up the addiction to having everyone and everything fit the Procrustean bed of your spiritualized imagination.
Allow the simplicity of love to be the fulcrum around which your life revolves. Appreciate each breath. Be grateful. Live and let live. Savor the opportunity to be alive and enjoy all the many blessings in your life. Take off the rose-colored glasses and those rose-colored explanations. You don't need them anymore.
Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at July 9, 2012 11:15 PM
I love this, Mitch! Well said!
Posted by: Prill Boyle at May 5, 2011 07:51 AM
Thanks again Mitch for articulating so well the difference between imagination, however spectacular, and face to face reality. This illustrates perfectly why the Master has to be a living one. And why we need to be with him as much as we are able. It's so much more spectacular than we can imagine. (I really enjoy your sharing of your Close Encounters.) Please keep it up.
ugggh, I so resemble this post....I've often said that I was a "one night stand" kind of gal about everything and everyone. Zip in, enlightenment, lust, love, power, fame, enjoy and zip out before the flame dies down. You can imagine my utter horror during my first year of marriage when I realized this was "it". Here I was. What in the world was I doing with this man who wore white socks with shorts, always played the devil's advocate in discussions and didn't care if his shirts were wrinkled?! 19 years later and I'm just touching the surface of how amazing the Divine was in bringing us together. I touch the side of his face often when we're stopped at traffic lights, my humor has become more bizarre and absurd then it ever has because I love it when he laughs and his way of throwing questions right back at me has caused me to go deeper into my understanding.
I love that in this story, Mitch, Mahariji gave you the opportunity to reflect back so that you could understand what you were missing. Very loving.
Thanks for sharing this with us so that we can reflect on ourselves.
Posted by: Lynn Kindler at May 6, 2011 11:32 AM
Thanks for the clarity.
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