Saturday, April 23, 2005

Swami Parmanandi & Me

Friday night I experienced the hindi equivalent of seeing Bono play a room of 40 people. I went to hear Swami Parmanandji talk. The man is an official saint and is said to be followed by hundreds of thousands of people in the world, consulted by prime ministers, etc. Yet, I'd never heard of him.

I attended the speech not because of the hype (there really was none in the publicity at my church) but because I wanted to have the promised guided meditation (there also was none).

Once I got there and learned that I was in presence of someone whom people have compared to Buddha, Ghandi and Christ, I became curious about this man. I heard two women who looked like they grew up swimming in the gene pool next door tell how their first meeting with Swami (the "the" is silent) changed their life; they left home to follow him and now live in India for months every year.

This made me a little nervous. I have been exploring the boundaries of my spiritual path a little lately; I live in California; I've also got blond hair and blue eyes. Was there a chance that I was going to be so strongly overcome by this man's presence that I was going to kiss my family goodbye and move to India and sleep on mats? I only came for the guided meditation!

I settled in, accustoming myself to the line by line excellent translation provided by yet another devotee, an ex-IBM executive who grinned ear to ear at everything Swami said. I must say he made a lot of sense. He spoke well (my Hindi is excellent) and told the truth in a simple, memorable, accessible way that is useful for modern life.

I got to ask him a question regarding whether it matters what the reasons are that you do the right thing. His answer confirmed my emerging belief in the matter (basically that it does and it doesn't simultaneously). Afterwards, I ate almonds that had been blessed by him and was extremely grateful that they were low carb.

But whether it was the long long beard, the orange hood or the toe socks, I find myself, one day later, not even considering considering dropping everything and following him--a little disappointing, but ah well, I have never been the devotee type.

I'm a dabbler extraordinaire. I subscribe to the thesis of the visionary political astrologer Caroline Casey, "believe nothing, entertain possibilities." And there is strong possibility that this man that I have spoken to and eaten of his almonds is one of the greatest spiritual teachers alive.

Next week: 40 Indians meet Oprah.

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