An Inevitable Coin Toss

Jul 3, 2005

I once asked John Robbins, "In your experience, how much of service is internal and how much is external?" Some would say 50-50, some would say 90-10, some might even say that's an irrelevant question. Very spontaneously, John responded: "Hundred, hundred."

When we walked into Igatpuri, we didn't have an admission into the popular 10-day meditation course. A fortunate halt at Biharilal's house, though, and circumstances gave way for us to be cross-legged in complete silence from 4:30AM to 9PM for almost two weeks.

After walking through 1000 kilometers of rough Indian terrain, this is a very intense walk through the depths of our own minds. For the last two months, everything has been impermanent for us: new bed every other night, new people at every corner, new conditions to experience at every blink of an eye. Changing, changing, changing. The more you try to grasp something, the more it slips away. After two and a half months of that kind of training, we come to complete halt. No reading, writing, talking, walking, moving. Stillness. Such a sharp contrast can do you in, if you aren't careful. Although Guri and I have done many such, this definitely feels like our most intense one.

On the 11th day, Guri comes out thinking we need to go deeper within and I come out ready to walk till the end of dawn. By the 12th day, we flip entirely; I am fired up to take on the meditation challenge and Guri is ready to hit the slippery roads. By the 13th day, we are both confused. :)

We are back to the question I asked John: how much of change is internal, and how much is external? If it really is a 100-100, do we meditate or walk?

So many questions, absolutely no answers. In fact, these questions were always there, even before we left for our pilgrimage. But instead of ready-steady-go, we just go, hopefully steady and ready someday, if at all. If we waited to answer all our questions, I would still be writing page 342 of the CharityFocus business plan. :) In the end, you just gotta do it. Now. And now.

So we did the only thing left to do: a coin toss!

We find a 2 rupee coin and turn it upside down in our hands. Front side has a king, back side has a map of India. "Ok, Kings we meditate. And the map of India, we walk."

A coin toss is an interesting experiment. Just when you think you don't care one way or another, all your hidden fears arise moments before the toss -- the jitters about unconditional acceptance.

First doubt: can you really let "luck" determine your destiny? Seriously, though, is it luck that an eight grader walking with you finds a hundred rupee note on the ground, or that a 20 pound iron bar falls just a few steps in front of me, from a truck moving at 65 kilometers/hour, or that a drunk teenager walks 8 kilometers with you through the worst part of town? And if it is all luck, then what's wrong with one more roll of the dice?

Ok, fine. Coin toss it is.

But wait, more doubts. So many people are waiting for us in Bombay and beyond, we have lined up an entire press conference and public talks that have the potential to inspire so many more, and there are folks anxiously waiting to join us on the walk. Is it responsible to drop all that? On the other hand, all of this can easily build subtle forms of ego; do we honestly have the tools to battle it and stay real? At the end of the day, any selfless act can be seen as selfish and any self-centered act can be billed selfless. Ego hides in between the cracks, lurks where no one dares to look, and plays hide and seek with the best of your awareness. So what to do?

Guri and I look to each other, with the 2 rupee coin still in my hand. Ok, coin toss it is. We triple check our gut -- "Whatever happens, we do it with our full heart. No ifs, ands or buts. No other way."

At this point, we truly don't mind accepting any outcome. Walking in the monsoons is going to be painful, and sitting in complete solitude for weeks and weeks is going to be painful. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Only one player in the game -- it's you on this side of net, it's you on the other side of the net. It doesn't matter. Bring it on, bring it all on.

We close our eyes for a brief prayer to let the universe guide us in being its instruments. I flick the two-rupee coin up in the air and it lands squarely in the palms of my right hand. After a momentary pause, largely for dramatic effect, we peek at our destiny.

And the verdict -- meditate!

Meditation it is. We've journeyed the roads of India, now it's time to journey the pathways of our own minds.

Without an iota of doubt, we immediately walk to the monastery to see if they will grant us an exception to meditate for a longer period. Dhamma Giri gets 3000 applications for 650 capacity slots for each ten day course; allowing random visitors to stay an indefinite period is not an easy proposition. We ask one passerby by the entrance gate, who calls out to another passerby, who connects us a third guy passerby -- Jayeshbhai. Just like that.

The moment you meet a person like Jayeshbhai, you feel happy. I don't know if it's his non-stop, radiant smile or what but he's just one of those guys.

Taking him to be an administrator, we share our story as it is and inform him of a coin toss that brought us there. :) Interestingly, Jayeshbhai asks us very unrelevant yet intriguing questions: have you heard of Mota's Hari-Om Ashram, have you been to Nareshwar, have you visited Akshardham? My grandfather built the first room of the Hari-Om Ashram and Mota married my parents; Nareshwar is the place where we first piloted our pilgrimage; the founder of Akshardham, Pramukh Swami, offered me monkhood when we first met. Then, Jayeshbhai shares a story of a senior Vipassana meditator who circumambulated the Narmada river -- something we had been discussing for the last couple days. Guri and I curiously wonder what kind of administrator dude this Jayeshbhai really is?!? He's reading us like a second grade textbook!

We get full permission to stay and meditate as long as we want, whenever we want. During my meeting with the "male manager", I curiously ask about Jayeshbhai. The manager responds, "Jayeshbhai is practically the senior most teacher of Vipassana after Goenka-ji." Unmarried, a monk in plain clothes, teacher for very senior meditators, Jayeshbhai guides all the Vipassana centers of Western India. The male manager adds, "You are very lucky that he has allowed you such a privilege of sitting as many courses whenever you want. As you know, thousands of people want to sit in each ten day camp. It's a very rare thing to get such an acceptance. I hope you make best use of it."

Alright. Grace continues to flow.

So, 1000 kilometers of walking. Now perhaps 1000 hours of meditation? Jayeshbhai did warn us, though: "You know, an hour of meditation is much harder than a kilometer of walking." We nod our heads in agreement. Darn, that coin toss! :)

It's truly a journey without a destination.

[ P.S. The week after we took this decision, it turns out that Western India was hit with floods; courtesy of a coin toss, we were neatly tucked away, meditating in isolation. ]

Bookmark and Share


Projects I'm Involved With

"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."