Day 0, To Be Like a Coconut

Sep 3, 2005

"If you had to had to be fruit, what would you be?" That was the question that several of us were discussing, couple years ago. I don't remember what I said but Guri said, "I'd be a coconut. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, empty at the core."

For the next ten days, I have to be like a coconut. I'm facing one of the most unique challenges of my life, as I get ready to serve the next ten-day meditation course for college students.

Among the 300 male students for this course are 120 college students. About 40 of those students are coming because the college authorities "convinced" them to come. Past experience shows that these 120 will be a handful; they won't wake up on time, they won't be able to stay silent and will disturb other meditators, they will organize into small groups of mischief, they will call each other on their mobiles to pass time and lock each other's room to escape meditation hours, they will disrespect those who serve them, and basically, create a serious racket in a typically peaceful meditation center. Despite the hefty price tag for creating this opportunity for youngster, it's a very worthy exercise because many willing young minds will get a taste of themselves and possibly change the course of the rest of their lives.

The entire operation is unlike any other course. Specially trained "meditation corps" are being called in from around the state; seven assistant teachers are on hand to do all kinds of things from 4AM belling to counseling to teaching; close to thirty other servers will be around to manage the course; everyone who comes to serve this course knows that they will be pushed to the limits. One teacher recently told me, "If you can survive these 10-days with a smile, you can do just about anything else." :)

For the last three months, I have been alternating sitting and serving a course; this was my course to sit but I don't know how I ended up in the thick of this challenge. Actually I do know. His name is Sudesh Leal.

At 13, Sudesh's mom forced him to attend a 10-day course in the UK, with Goenka-ji; at 21, he went again of his own will; by 25, he told his parents about his inclination to dedicate his life for service -- "How can I just turn my back on dharma?" He left his 8 month old stint as a Math teacher in the UK to come to this meditation center in Igatpuri. Sitting two 45/60-day courses per year and serving rest of the time (with his thick English accent :)), he has spent the last seven years in that spirit. Now, he's a senior meditation teacher who manages tons of activities on the 100-acred campus called Dhamma Giri. One striking character trait about Sudesh is his radiant joy; in the midst of all kinds of non-stop, chaotic activity, he is always full of joy at absolutely any moment of his 18-hour work day. It's hard to find any hooks in his personality.

Since I've been here at Dhamma Giri for the last couple months, I have been granted the power to implement some major projects, make systemic changes and design new initiatives. Much to everyone's surprise, it has all worked out immaculately and for me, it's been a very satisfying service experience. It's all a result of so many inter-twined conditions, but Sudesh was one of those conditions that I felt grateful for. Being on the lookout for expressing that gratitude, I finally stumbled upon an answer.

It was either me or Sudesh who had to take on the bad-cop responsibility for this course, so I took it in the hopes that Sudesh gets a little breather. Because Sudesh will on the "dhamma seat", teaching and playing Mr. Good-guy, :) he's been prepping me for my role -- "You see, this is what I do. Right before I have to discipline a student, I stand outside the door and wish for their well being for a minute. Then, I knock on their door, let 'em have it, and right as I leave, I make sure I have a smile on my face."

The next ten days promises to be an interesting challenge for me. My job is to be Mr. Bad-Guy-in-Chief, who enforces all the rules and expels the trouble makers. My "meditation mafia" team is probably gonna be the most unpopular by the end of the course. But that's ok. We're just gonna try to be like coconuts: enforcing discipline on the outside, wishing compassion from the inside, and ultimately just being empty instruments of nature.

Ironically, this is how I would hope that I treat my own self -- no tolerance of external laziness, compassion for the repeated, ignorant mistakes, and surrender of all outcomes to the flow of nature.

It's funny how everything becomes a mirror, when you're seriously cultivating.

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