Meetings with remarkable people

In meditation a thoughtwave crossed my mind, a title really, of a book describing the various people who crossed an individual’s path and contributed to his self realization.  He is G. I. Gurdjieff and the title is Meetings With Remarkable Men.

This caused me to reflect on the remarkable people who have crossed my path and from whom I have drawn depth growth and maturity.


Labyrinth Seattle WA

Labyrinth Seattle WA (Photo credit: berendbotje54)

It’s time to acknowledge them. I have been blessed to grow from many others in many areas such as my profession, the arts, the martial arts, being a householder, being a friend, economics and more, and I am fully thankful to them.   As I live, I expect to add more to this list.  Here are my meetings with remarkable people.

Guru Dev Chitrabhanu.  I met him in the mid to late 70’s.  I was out of the Marine Corps, trying to adjust to civilian life, and in living in somewhat chaotic and confusing circumstances.  I believe I saw an ad in New York’s Village Voice newspaper about meditation instruction, clipped it, and went to the Jain Meditation Center.  This was my first live instruction in meditation.

The people there were nice and all, including the newcomers like myself, but it was the teaching of the   practice and its associated attitude which made it significant.

I am not a personality worshiper.  While I saw people practically swoon at his and other spiritual people’s presence, I didn’t care how allegedly special he was, what good works he did, how cute, etc.  It was “is this a scam or is there something here for me.”  I have been a meditator ever since.  Gurudev didn’t teach any of the classes I took as I remember, a senior disciple did, but I did attend a few events where Guru was present and got to ask a question or two.  This meeting carved out the first steps of the million mile journey I was looking for.

About a year or so later, I was in the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Manhattan browsing the Philosophy section.  I picked out a paperback, was scanning it, and a guy next to me says “That’s a perfect man, and he’s in town.”  Being a streetwise & suspicious person I probably said “Oh yeah, that’s nice.”  He continued “They’re having an open house tonight, it’s free, you should come.”  He wrote down the address of the place, I thanked him, and scooted out half wondering if this was a come on of some sort.

With nothing of substance going on that night, I went to the Chogye Zen Center.  As I entered, he was by the door, and I could see the worship and devotion given to him by people around him.   Zen Master  Seung Sahn.  A small bald Korean monk with a nice smile.  I thought “OK, cool but not my scene,” and started to leave.  Just then the dude who had invited sees me, greets me, pours me some corn cob tea, and thanks me for coming.  I’m just in time for meditation.

I’m the last one into the hall and all the cushions are taken .  My lotus posture isn’t that good so I have to do a half lotus which is not great for and extended time.  I know a little something about meditation (I think) so I ask, “um, what type should we do? A mantra, visualization, a breathing technique?  Through the translator, the Master barked back “Sit down!  Don’t move muscle, don’t move mind!”  Gong goes off and we’re meditating.  I’m struggling with my sitting posture and trying to “Don’t move muscle, don’t move mind!”

I last the session and we go out to have tea or snack and then for a Q&A.  People are asking about The Dharma, the meaning of particular sutras, etc., and I’m a little disappointed.  This guy is supposedly a life master of some sort and people are asking what seems to me trivia?  Timidly, I raise my hand in the back, and get pointed to.  I have a living in the world life issue to ask about not just a literary question, but I pose it timidly.  He sees that and asks me to clarify, making me make the question more direct .

BOOM!  He answers my question to the core, without ambiguity, in a matter of three or four words.  My life was transformed from that moment on.  The question will pop up now and again in my life, and the same answer resounds as ever valid and true.



2006-05-amma.jpg (Photo credit: ~anuradha)

Amma.  I have had Darshan with her twice, been embraced by her twice, and seen her couple of more times.  This experience can be compared to being embraced by god himself, if he were fleshly and warm or Jesus Christ if you like.

Whereas very high important spiritual people usually have a physical as well as spiritual distance from the lowly seeker or disciple, Amma makes herself available to many.   She will hug you and kiss you, or cry with you, and whisper into your ear.  Yes, you will hear her teachings.  She will sing in ecstasy with those assembled, but the highlight of attending her gatherings is being able to line up to be hugged by her.

If the divine inhabits human form, it would be worthless without his touch, he might as well stay in the clouds.  God would have missed an opportunity if he didn’t inhabit Amma’s form.  She hugs, with palpable love, hundreds and thousands in a night.

When was the last time your pastor, priest, guru, or minister, hugged everyone in the congregation?  Much less a group of strangers!  The bigger they get, don’t most of them have bodyguards to prevent just anyone from touching them?  Amma has lived a life of communion, surrender, and devotion to the divine, and she shares the blessings of that through her teaching, and her touch.

R.W. Shambach is a fundamentalist Christian minister, who has held stadium sized revivals worldwide.  While I no longer ascribe to fundamentalist Christian theology, I won’t deny the influence of “Brother Shambach” on me and my family.

His message carried the required elements of the fall of man, guilt, original sin, and salvation only through Jesus, but there was a large, very large, dose of earthly hope.  Heaven aside, the here and now demands attention too.  Were you sick?  There was healing coming your way.  Didn’t have rent money?  A money miracle had your name on it.  Need a job, want to help someone else, look to god cause with him it’s not only possible but guaranteed like from no one else.

Like it or not there is a blurred line between faith and hope.  I’ve been where hope is what got you through to the next day without reckless action or despair.  I’ve been where a so called miracle came through, and where you’re eyes just opened up to other positive options.  Brother Shambach’s fervent, yelling, screaming, frantically insistent message of a coming solution to your problems was hard to reject when you were in need.  He preached like he had no doubts about it for himself and for you.

Pastor James O’Keefe of Harvest Christian Fellowship.  “Jimmy” as we knew him, is someone we spent more time with.  A very studious and thoughtful man, He was the spiritual guide of at first a very small group of Christians in a hotel room at a Holiday Inn, then of a growing church.  With him you studied the Bible: word for word, line by line, and verse by verse.  If you want a loving shepherd, this is the man.

He always had a fresh, inspired and insightful teaching of words that are obviously old and sometimes stale.  He could be a friend, a guide, a counselor, or a disciplinarian. Not a flashy show biz entertainer pastor like many even local ones are, Jimmy took spiritual guidance for living seriously.  He drew a distinction between converts and disciples.  In the Bible, Jesus asks to make disciples of all nations not just members of the club.  Discipleship refers to people who live a disciplined life as guided by the scriptures.  Jimmy really cared for people to be disciples.

Paramahansa Yogananda.  I never met him in the flesh.  He passed in 1952, before I was born, but his legacy had a profound impact on me.  At a time when religion, scriptures, meditation, ritual, dogma, and even “fellowship” were losing importance to me, he pointed out an important factor that often gets lost in the sauce for religious and spiritual people.  It’s not all about memorizing words, performing rituals, keeping obligations; he says it’s about having a “Divine Romance.”  That book spoke to me.

Think about it, in a romantic relationship, there is a give and take, not just a one way street of worship.  There isn’t any fear of the beloved.  You cannot have a romantic relationship with a king, or an angry jealous god.  You have a romantic relationship with someone you have things in common with.  Yogananda’s language of the divine romance is sweet.  His teachings of gods character makes god more  mother than father, he often calls to “Divine Mother.”  My own mother when exposed to this teaching gravitated to it, translating one his poems into Spanish for a relative before she passed.  As she lay in a coma in a hospital bed, I sang to my mother, Yogananda’s song “Divine Mother.”

Yogananda opened up the idea of a truly loving, sweet,  two way street relationship with god, and self reliance in the world without conflict.

I’m a bibliophile.  I keep up with pop literature as well as older literature, as soon as it began to make a buzz, I took an interest in a book called “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. Another person I never met, though he is alive and well.

The God Delusion is an atheists’ counter arguments to proponents of the existence of god, and to the idea the “belief” in any god is better than non belief, or that believers are better than non believers.  Dawkins is detailed and articulate.  Believers counter that he is hostile and angry, which is a popular retort when there is nothing of substance to continue discussion with.  Richard Dawkins exposes the intellectual vacuity that resorts to this artifice, and addresses point by point the lack of substance of claims of gods existence, the inconsistencies in scriptures, and the dubious worth of religious doctrines.

Richard Dawkins is a scientist, an evolutionary biologist. His books are responsible for the popular dissemination of intelligent and unapologetic arguments against the existence of god and all their particular doctrines.  It’s hard to explain but his writings, and speaking, freed me from the remaining cords to the idea of the existence of a god that matters.

Unitarian Universalist  Reverend Anya appeared at a time where we were looking for spiritual companionship, after having rejected most religious dogmas and not wanting to be trapped in that game anymore, but still appreciating the further dimensions of our being.

The first time I heard her, she spoke on reclaiming spiritual vocabulary.  It was beautiful.  I could use the word god to mean something other than an old man in the clouds who is always looking to pounce and lay the smack down on you…”cause he loves you.” No one religion owns the word god, or lord, heaven, realization, union, love, compassion, righteousness.

The Unitarian Universalist Church in our community led by Reverend Anya, was a welcome addition to our lives.  The people there did not all believe the same things, some believed in a Christian version of god, others just in an anonymous Diety, some were Atheists, Jewish, Buddhist, or Secular Humanist.  That they could assemble without discord in to comfort each other, in support of each other’s personal growth and realization, in support of social justice for all, was by that time for me unexpected.  This congregation brought back to life the idea of a loving spiritual community without a lot of the hang-ups other groups have.  So many great people there, young and old, black and white and more, at different stages in their spirituality, just a wonderful congregation.

Anya was available.  She spoke with us, counseled us, hugged us and cried with us.  She also did something no other minister did; she engaged me in spiritually serving the congregation.

By this time we’d been in the spiritual life many years and in several churches and groups, some pretty good ones, but it often seemed that unless you were of a particular social status, or had a degree of wealth, dressed well, sucked up to the leader, or even were the right color, you weren’t going to be doing much from the pulpit.  No matter how much you knew and had studied and how your insights and experiences could help others.

You could have the childcare ministry, or the janitorial ministry, but to lead a service?  Oh no. But many UU (Unitarian Universalist) churches are led by lay followers, and although this one had a minister, she engaged us all in sharing and serving with pleasure.  Whether in home groups, church groups, different committees, you were given the opportunity to express your love, your knowledge and background, your experience in a substantial way to your brothers and sisters. For this, and her manner of being I will always be thankful for Reverend Anya’s presence in my life.


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