Unstuffing An Envelope

Aug 2, 2005

Almost two years ago, I received a stuffed envelope. It's still there in a hidden corner of my brother's drawer. I just opened that envelope few days ago.

After a meeting of some like-minded folks, an 70-plus-year old man follows me to the exit door and gently places a stuffed envelope in the top left pocket of my half-sleeve shirt.

"Nipun, here, I want you to take this. It's from your uncle," he said very compassionately.

"What's this?" I ask, cracking a curious smile. I figure it's a thank-you letter from him or perhaps a project proposal for review. He puts his right hand on my left shoulder, swings me around and tries to push me out the door, "Just go. Open it later." With all my curiosity, I swing back around and ask him, "No, come on. What is it? Can I open it right now?" Without waiting for him to answer, I childishly grab the envelope from my pocket and open it in front of him.

Now, I don't know how exactly to describe this man. The first time I met him, rather randomly, I experienced a rather strange yet powerful sensation. Throughout our hello-nice-to-meet you type of conversation, my head was pulsating with a peculiar sensation that orginated right smack in the center of my forehead. At that time, I was maybe 23, and I didn't exactly understand the cause of that feeling but I still vividly remember it. I ignored it at the time, but both of us felt deeply connected to each other.

Although we rarely met over the years, he would unfailing give me something every time we met. One time, when I gave him a ride, he pulled out a can of cashews from his small hand-bag; he stutteringly told me the story of Sudama, a very poor friend of Krishna, who would give little offerings to Krishna with great love. Then, he'd innocently say, "You know, you can keep these in your car and whenever you get hungry, just eat one or two. They're roasted cashews. I think you'll like them." Hoooya. Another time I went to visit him at his house, when he was sick, he reaches out to the back of a paper pile and brings out a pen with a logo of some conference. "Do you think you could use a pen? I received this when I gave a talk in Belgium recently and I have been saving it for you. It writes really well, see ..." as he opens it up carefully and demos the pen. Just receiving one such pure offering can change someone deeply.

Every single time, he would give me something. I asked him why and he'd shrug it off with, "Because I just feel like doing it", almost as if to say, "Oh, you won't understand." Yet it was such a genuine expression of love, that I made it a habit of accepting all his gifts (something uncharacteristic for my nature).

The first time I went to his house, we meditated in a corner of his house where he sits everyday; then he cut me some mangoes as I quizzed him about his life story; his is a quiet life of anonymous service -- he is somewhat famous, his work has directly affected tens of thousands of lives around the globe and his meetings with incredible saints has given much inspiration. Most of what he has earned over the years, he has creatively given away for benefit of mankind. Yet one got the impression that he rarely shares this information (and so I am not writing his name or other details) in the interest of humility.

And he's always deeply supported everything I do. I spoke to him before I quit my job at Sun Microsystems and he gave lots of practical advice but urged me to surge forward towards my "destiny". Throughout the years, he has opened many critical doors for me without even knowing it. Lots of people come to help after something is successful, but his was an unconditional support in solidarity of my spirit of service. I have always counted on it.

So, back to this envelope. Here is my old friend, someone I call "uncle", a fellow pilgrim, giving me a random gift yet again. I have to open it. And I do.

It's money! Hard, cold cash. A whole bunch of cash stuffed in a bulging envelope.

"What is this?" I ask him. I mean, gifts are already over-the-top and here is straight money from a simple, 74-year-old man! "There is no way I can accept this," I tell him as I place the stuffed envelope back in his hand. Using all his might, he says, "No, this is for you and only you. There is no way you can refuse it. It is very pure money, very honestly and sincerely gathered, and it is meant for you. It's not very much but it comes with all my love." And again he put his left hand on my right shoulder and swings me around to push me out the door. I was a little awe-struck. Not knowing what to do, I accept it. When I reach home, I saw that it was the largest cash gift I have ever received in my life. I safely secure the envelope; I have a feeling that there will be just-the-right-time to open that envelope again.

Couple days ago, then, as I was silently walking to the breakfast hall after a few hours of morning meditation, I had this random thought about my "uncle" friend. In my mind, for legitimate reasons or not, I thought that his time of death is nearing ... that perhaps might I not see him again. In thankfulness for all that I have shared with him, I stood still for a moment, closed my eyes, and sent out a prayer for his well being.

Then, for a brief moment, that stuffed envelope came alive once again. And this time I noticed something I hadn't seen before -- the envelope wasn't neatly organized with crisp notes of one or another kind. There were crumpled dollar bills, five dollar bills, ten dollar bills, twenty and so on. He clearly didn't just go to a bank and bring that cash. I got the sense that he had been collecting that money, bit by bit, for a while and must've accompanied some serious sacrifice along with it. Tears started rolling down my eyes -- "Thank you, my fellow dharma pilgrim. My best will always stay with you, wherever you are, wherever I am, on this voyage to our center."

Many times on this pilgrimage, we wonder about the "just in time" events that save us from much suffering. The answers are perhaps covered in stuffed envelopes thousands of miles away.

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