Pilgrimage To Full Moon

Feb 24, 2005

Two years ago, today, "mota-bapu" passed away. Jayeshbhai was telling me about his Dad's older brother -- to raise the family, he never married; he planted thousands of trees around, he loved animals, he treated anyone who came to his house as his own. You could say he was a monk.

As we were talking, we had an idea -- "Let's go out on the streets, find an old person, serve them, and seek his blessings." I added, "Let's go right now." "Maybe we can even visit Topovan, a nearby ashram," Jayeshbhai said as we gathered nearby friends for an impromptu pilgrimage. :)

Right around the corner of the house, the first man we encounter is a toothless, 90 year old guy with the most awesome smile. "What do you do?" we asked innocently. "Say God's name," he replied as if that was his profession.

As we were speaking to him, we smell another guy approaching. Literally. With tobacco-ridden teeth, he was drunk, smoking an almost-burned-out cigarette, holding a glass of hot tea in his left hand and snapping his fingers with the other, speaking random sentences.
Within a couple minutes of speaking to him, he motions the tea-stand owner to treat us all to tea. Drunk guy treating us to tea? What a beginning. :)

Very quickly, though, we realized this was an interesting drunk guy. One of his obvious character traits was that he never lies. When Jayeshbhai asked him if he drinks, he responded with a stern yes. He was open about all his bad habits, his bad company, his bad relations with others. But there was a sort of innocence to him; and a deep rooted kindness.

After about ten minutes of conversation, we wanted to move on, but this guy refused to leave us. He wanted us to visit his house. Jayeshbhai told him that we'll come tomorrow, but he was adamant -- "See, it's right there, right there is my house. Come, come." We eventually gave in and followed this man, unknown to us twenty minutes ago.

As he adjusted his glasses -- which didn't have the right prescription -- you could see his two charred teeth and a heartfelt glee as he took a little skip-step and led us to his home.

On the way there, he insists on taking us to his "mother's house", which turns out to be his temple. As drunk as he is, he takes off his slippers outside and start praying. Bringing his two hands together, he slapped them on his chest and then pointed it in the direction of the idol and said: "Please God, share you blessings with him." He does it again, for Jayeshbhai, who was bit further back, and Guri and Madhu who were a bit behind them. Then, almost resigned, he looks down and asks: "What else can I offer?"

I almost fell to tears, but fortunately, our friend returned to his comedy mode, right as we left the temple. He had this distinct habit of half-snapping his right hand's fingers as he spoke. It would crack us all up. :)

We went to his home, in the slums. We visited his family, saw his buffalo, saw the disrespect (and perhaps fear) with which he was treated. But our buddy didn't care. He took us to a nearby shop and insisted on buying us something (we got a mouth freshner).

When we told him that we wanted to go to "Tapovan", the ashram that was our initial intention, he proudly declared, "You are my friends, this is my community. I will take you to Tapovan."

Sure enough, he did. Since he was drunk, he couldn't enter (and he knew that) but he left us there and stood outside with two hands folded together in a prayerful goodbye. We will probably never see him again.

As if that wasn't enough, we were walking around the Jain school/ashram -- a nice, clean place in the middle of the slums -- and we realized that a swarm of kids had collected together. We asked what was going on and an onlooker said, "The leader of this lineage of Jain monks is passing through town. So today is a special talk by him."

Realizing the serendipity of everything thus far, we figured we'd sit down. A team of about 15-20 Jains "munis" walk through the front, as a senior disciple introduces the main speaker, their leader. I forget his name but he renounced when he was 16 and comes a rather strong lineage.

He largely spoke about merging action and wisdom. One without another is incomplete. To end his Gujarati talk, he gave an awesome story of a young kid born into very poor circumstances. Soon after his birth, he was orphaned and left to begging on the street.

One day, he finds himself in the forest and decides to just stay there, and live simply. Since he was a beggar, he was never allowed in the temples but when he saw a particular stone in the forest, he figured this is what temples must have. So he created his own little shrine, with all that he could find. Having nothing else to do in the forest, he would pray all day. As the story goes, he fell severely ill one day and as he was passing away, "Dear God, I don't know who you are, I don't know how to pray, I don't know what will happen next, but I am dying with a smile on my face." It is said this young kid attained much grace in his rebirth and eventually found freedom from all illusions.

We heard the talk with interest and as we left, we read a quote on one of the notice boards: "To be fully liberated, you have to be zero, not hero."

Quietly, we walk out of the ashram and the first thing we soak-in are the bright yellow full-moon rays, in all its majestic power.

Full moon, 2 year death anniversary, a blind intention to serve, an open ended walk. The night was still barely young but that's a story for another day.

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