From Sweeper To Saint

Feb 22, 2005

Tap, tap, tap. I feel it on my shoulder, just as I was about to cry in admiration of life's majestic ways. It is the man in the seat next to mine, wanting to talk about God.

I tune in. After couple minutes, I turn around to look out the bus window next to my seat. Again, in a minute or two, I am about to cry. And again: tap, tap, tap. It is my neighbor, telling me something else about God. This happens a third time and then, there is no turning back. :)

A simple, unassuming, thin man, Vinod is talking exactly what I am thinking ... which is rather odd. To mess things up a bit, I bluntly ask him a bold yet tricky question:

"Have you actually seen God?"

Much to my surprise, he simply says, "Yes. Twice."

"Oh really?" Now, things were getting really interesting. He knew that 'God' is technically everywhere, in everyone and in everything. So how can you just see 'him' twice?

Then, Vinod describes some stories that leave me spellbound for the next twenty minutes. [While I would love to share it, a written description would not do it justice; so I will gloss over the details below.]

Vinod loves to sit in peace. Maybe we could call it meditation, but he doesn't label it. During one such time, he went to a quite spot in a park and sat under a tree. He was sitting there, being with God, when two gentleman came by and sat down in front of him. "They were dressed in nice, fancy clothes," Vinod added with an innocent smile.

They started talking about the only thing Vinod really knows -- God. During the course of the conversation, both of these men started crying. Vinod said he was speaking without even knowing or thinking about what he is saying. And then, as Vinod recalls, a third man came down and sat next to the two, although he never said a word.

The way Vinod was describing the encounter, I couldn't tell if these were super-human people or imaginary people or what. But nonetheless, for Vinod that experience and that exchange was God enough. And for me, just reliving that experience with him was powerful.

"What about the second time?" I ask, curiously.

Vinod then goes on to describe the first -- and the only -- time he went to a seven-day "katha" (spiritual discourse) on Ramayana. It is said that sincerity of prayers manifests God at these long prayer gatherings, and while some claim to "feel" it, almost no one can really claim to see it. Except, of course, Vinod.

"Everyone would crowd up to the front, but I saw him sitting towards the back of the room, in orange robes, shining bright and luminous, amidst the people. I couldn't take my eyes off him!" Vinod recalled. After a pause, he continued: "Most people are blind, though. I don't think they recognized or saw God sitting right there in front of them. And of course, it's ultimately everywhere but you have to have the eyes."

I asked if he has gone again to one of those prayers; he said he hadn't. "Why not?" I asked. "Circumstances," he replied without any emotion. "But God is everywhere, so it doesn't matter to me."

It turns out, Vinod is a janitor. He makes about $50 per month, for a family of five. When he is not cleaning the floors, he is cleaning his mind.

As we were leaving, he said that he will never forget this day. I won't either, bro.

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