1968_05_04--027_SP - Page 1

1968_05_04--023_SP_Guru from Rishikesh

I hired a car and told the driver to take me to Rishikesh. He grinned and said, `You go Beatles?' know what it meant if she fell asleep. Jarvis told her it was a successful indication, that it implied a release of tension and an adjustment of the central nervous system. Somebody else asked about daydreaming. That also was correct. He discouraged nobody, explaining that all responses were proper if the meditation was easy. Anything hard or strained was bad. To a boy who confessed a tendency to open his eyes during meditation. Jarvis said, "It will pass. There really isn't much to see." Always he smiled in an oblique and secret way. and sometimes, apparently for no reason, he permitted himself gusts of sudden laughter. A girl said, " What if your nose itches? Should you scratch or forget about it?" "We scratch," Jarvis said. At the end of an hour he announced a group meditation and nodded at a student standing off to his left. The lights were dimmed, and for the next 15 minutes the entire audience sat in profound silence. They sat with their hands in their laps, their eyes closed, their heads inclined slightly forward, without coughing or shifting in their chairs. When it was over, Jarvis slowly raised his head and softly pronounced the words, "Jai Guru Dev." a phrase meaning "Hail, holy teacher" and one that, being popular with the Maharishi, I was to hear often repeated in India. The lights came up, the crowd stirred, and Jarvis asked if anybody had encountered any difficulties. Nobody mentioned any, but a boy sitting toward the front asked about his own life, which was not going as well as he would have liked. He wore a full beard, a flat, black hat and a fatigue jacket on which was scrawled the ironic advice: ENLIST NI.) —DON'T DELAY—AVOID THE RUSH. Since he'd begun meditation, he said, he'd been having a lot of trouble; a lot of terrible things had been happening; he'd been evicted from his apartment and visited by the federal narcotics agents. "What about that?" he said. "How fortunate," Jarvis said, "that you started meditating." Again he escaped into a gust of laughter, as did everybody else in the classroom. The boy smiled weakly and then also laughed, but not as convincingly as the others. The next morning, at Jarvis's suggestion. I presented myself at the meditation center on Channing Way, to see what I could of the initiations. A few birch trees and a plot of threadbare ivy decorated the approach to a stucco building that once had been a sorority house. The signs on the door prohibited smoking and praised the Guru Dev. Within, just to the left of the door, a girl in a green smock sat at a desk, sifting through mimeographed forms. She had long brown hair and gentle eyes, but she looked at me suspiciously. Jerry, I said, had sent me. "OK," she said, "but take your shoes off . and talk in whispers." Directly opposite the door a flight of stairs led to the second floor; to the right, furnished with a piano and several uncomfortable couches, a long and narrow living room extended along the west side of the house. On the far wall somebody had tacked up a photograph of the Maharishi among the Beatles and their wives, all of them draped with flowers; on the floor a stuffed panda sat staring into a broken television set. At 8 A.M. the first novitiates began to come diffidently through the door, some of them bringing their fruit and flowers in paper bags and others bringing it discreetly in briefcases. Almost everybody brought apples or oranges, but those dressed in the more exotic clothes invariably brought mangoes or pomegranates. A boy in a business suit appeared half an hour before his appointment and asked where he could buy flowers. "This isn't," he said apologetically, "my usual sort of thing." " We have extra," a girl said. Some of the students came with their girl friends; others came silently and alone. They first left their shoes in the hall and then presented themselves to the girl at the desk. She looked up their names in her book and took their $35; meanwhile another girl carried their fruit and flowers into the kitchen. (The girls who helped out, all of them meditators, had the quiet, knowing smiles of girls who help out at poetry readings and paint the sets in summer theaters.) Having made the preliminary arrangements, the students waited in the living room, often for as long as two hours. (Upstairs Jarvis had only three initiators to assist him, and although they worked without interruption until 7 P.M., they could handle no more than 100 students a day.) At irregular intervals a helper would stand in the doorway and beckon one of them. In the hall she would hand him a shallow, straw basket, in which his fruit and flowers were arranged, also his white handkerchief and a form indicating he had paid. Carrying the basket gently in both hands, he would follow her up the stairs. At equally irregular intervals other students would come down the stairs, clutching a single flower. They held the flowers loosely in their hands, as if they were unaware of them, and always there was a dazed and smiling light in their faces. None could explain what had happened to them. Before I left, I heard a boy say to his newly initiated friend, " Well, Jesse? . . . Was it . . . ?" Jesse opened his arms in a wide and exuberant gesture, grinning at the other as if he'd said something foolishly irrelevant. "Oh yes," he said, ". . . oh yes." Across the River and Into the Trees The plane started its descent toward Delhi at dawn; through the rising mists I could see mud villages and fields of sugarcane. On the roads, not yet dusty in the heat, people and bullocks already were moving, and I could imagine pilgrims making their way to the holy places, their foreheads smeared with ashes and their minds preoccupied with the 99 names for God. In Delhi I hired a car and told the driver I wanted to go to Rishikesh. the holy city on the Ganges. He grinned and said, " You go Beatles?" I admitted I did, and on the drive north, 128 miles through market towns and herds of water buffalo, he announced that many, many others had gone Beatles. From the local papers I learned that George Harrison and John Lennon had arrived over the weekend. The Indian press had pursued them to the ashram (a retreat, or religious academy), and there had been unpleasant incidents. A photographer had been assaulted. and the editorials reflected a general bitterness and disillusion. We reached Rishikesh an hour before sunset. and the driver pointed across the river to the religious settlement of Swarag Ashram, beyond which, hidden in a forest, the Maharishi had his compound. The last light glittered on painted temples decorated with gaudy sculpture and verses from the Song Celestial. From a monastery somewhere in the surrounding hills I could hear the distant tinkling of bells. In the dry season at Rishikesh the Ganges is about 150 yards wide and still a greenish-blue color, the clarity of its origins not yet diluted by the mud and refuse of the plains. I crossed it in a motorboat crowded with pilgrims, many of them laughing and asking if I went Beatles. On the far shore, squatting against a low wall among a row of beggars, I encountered a man with a trident, whom I at first mistook for a citizen of the town. Naked to the waist, his thin legs protected by a soiled white cloth, he seemed to be some sort of religious figure. On his left arm was tattooed the Sanskrit character for the mystical "Om"; on his right arm there appeared the motto "Semper fidelis." He rose slowly and greeted me with the lazy indifference of a hippie who has made all the scenes. "You're late, man," he said. He identified himself as John O'Shea, formerly of Norwalk, Conn. The trident he explained as a symbol associated with the Lord Krishna. He himself, he said, did not frequent the Maharishi's ashram, which he considered insufficiently serious for his purposes, but he offered to show me around. Walking along the stony shore of the river, O'Shea told of his own odyssey. For four months he'd been wandering in India, dressed as a sadhu and traveling on third-class trains. ' If you're a holy man," he said, "everything's free, and nobody bugs you about the hashish." Together with several other Americans, he was living on an ashram in a farmyard, and from time to time they searched among the caves and temples for a guru of their own. In and around Rishikesh, he explained, there were hundreds of gurus, of every conceivable persuasion. Before coming to India he'd been in San Francisco, but Haight-Ashbury fell into the hands of the philistines, and besides, he'd been selling acid and felt the heat moving ominously toward him. " I figured," he said, " that it was about time for the journey to the East." About half a mile south of town, he left me at the lower end of a sandy path that led upward between a random series of low, stone buildings. Across the path a banner strung between bamboo poles bore the single word, WELCOME. Beyond, at the point where the path turned more steeply upward, a Hindu guard stood somberly in front of a wooden gate in a barbed-wire fence. The buildings at the higher elevations stood among sheshum and teak trees, but those below the gate straggled across open and stony ground. On a flat roof I noticed a monkey methodically breaking up a small, hard fruit the color of lemon. Among the lesser outbuildings I found one marked ENQUIRY OFFICE, and therein I presented my credentials to a shy and smiling man named Suresh. the majordomo of the establishment. I had arrived at a difficult time, he said; they were having some trouble with the press, and he wasn't sure who was supposed to go where. He nevertheless gave me a blanket and assigned me a room in a stone house on the lower slope of the ashram. The next morning it rained, and a heavy wind was blowing. At noon Suresh knocked on the door and said the Maharishi had consented to see me. Together we walked up the hill, past Hindu boys warming their hands over charcoal fires burning in braziers at the corners of the paths. The Maharishi's house stood in an isolated grove of trees on the edge of a bluff that commanded a wide view of the Ganges. A modest but comfortable brick building, it was surrounded by narrow fountains and lawns. Suresh instructed me to leave my shoes on the veranda and wait in a small, dark room that appeared to be the Maharishi's bedroom. A low bed covered with silk and an antelope skin stood against a wall sheathed in bamboo slatting; on the opposite wall hung a political map of the world, and above it, on a shelf decorated with Christmas tinsel, there was a painting of the Guru Dev identical to others I'd seen in New York and Los Angeles. Twenty minutes later Suresh ushered me into 27


1968_05_04--023_SP_Guru from Rishikesh
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