It was coooooold on the streets of Kansas City that third weekend in January.
Cold, that is, on the outside. In the world of streets and highways and cars and VW vans, of truck stops and hotel parking lots and airline terminals. But not within inside.
For the 7,000 brothers and sisters who trekked across the frigid, snow-covered countryside that weekend, keeping their sights on the beacon of Maharaj Ji's beckoning love, the world of Kansas City was warm as toast.
Warm and bright and full of his radiance.
Most of us had last seen that shining face on the evening of Nov. 12, in Rome. And, in a way, that was when the Kansas City program really began.
On that night, Guru Maharaj Ji, after five incredible days, took the microphone and told us all, "Welcome for the next festival." And on his birthday, a month later, he commented: "1978 has a real nice ring to it."
So now it is 1978 - January 20, 1978 - and Lee, a Kansas City premie, is doing "go-for" service at Maharaj Ji's temporary residence.
This is not a city I live in any more," he reflects as he drives. "It's a festiva1 site."
There are about 25 premies in the community, and when Lee first heard about the possibility of a program there, he couldn't believe it. But excitement changed to a mellow, warm feeling as he realized, "The most important thing is that he's having a program. It would be beautiful no matter where!" And this is Kansas City.
Teddy Tannenbaum, the K.C. program coordinator, is sitting on the floor of the Municipal Auditorium Friday morning, watching as chairs are laid out, sound equipment
Kansas City, January 20, 1978
6 January/ February, 1978
is hooked up, and the stage is constructed.
That morning, he has been awakened with the news that the Philly, New York and Boston airports are all snowed in.
It just seems right, in the divine logic of Maharaj Ji's world. Everything has been going so smoothly in Kansas City, and Teddy knew that if there were to be any problems, they would be with the weather and with people coming to the program.
The New Year's Celebration officially starts a little after four - only a bit late - with a tape of Guru Maharaj Ji's satsang in Rome on November 8. "Surrender," Maharaj Ji said that night. "This is a nice opportunity to do so, you know."
The hall begins to fill, and the energy begins to pick up, as the program progresses. There is satsang and music, and music and satsang. By 8:30 the Denver Holi band is singing a song to Kansas City.
"Kansas City," Fuzzbee sings into the mike, "Kansas City here I come. I'm goin' to Kansas City, gonna see my Lord one more time."
"I might take a plane," he continues, "I might take a train, but if I have to walk I'm gonna fly there just the same. Kansas City, Kansas City here I come!"
Guru Maharaj Ji wanted to wish us a Happy New Year. And, as in 1977, his way seems to mean a sequence of oneright-after-the-other programs in this city and that city, filling our year with an endless sense of stepping out of one darshan line right into the next.
One look at the outrageous stage tells the whole story. Five massive sails floating on a sea of silver foil, while the Captain's chair sits serenely on the bridge, backed by a large starfish design made of flowers.
And, on top of the tallest sail, a rotating red light which flashes only when the Captain is aboard.
Aye-aye, Sir. Pranam! We long to see that light flash. It is your wondrous light we've come to see - and feel, deep within our souls.
We certainly did see and feel it in Kansas City. The Captain spent a lot of time in that chair, just as he had done a couple of months earlier in Rome. And his love flowed and flowed, while the red light flashed and flashed and flashed.
* * *
By 9:30 the light has begun to flash - Maharaj Ji is in the hall. On stage, Buster Friendly; is singing, "Love Train." Up front the Security and Production people begin to settle down for the arrival of the Lord. Cameras are readied, microphones put into place. Then, at 9:43 …
"Dear premies," says Guru Maharaj Ji, "Happy New Year!"
The festival has really begun.
Maharaj Ji's satsang is being broadcast to the three cities where premies wait for a break in the storm so their planes can take off.
"There's a few premies," he says, "That have been stranded at some airports because of these gusty winds and storms and stuff like that."
As Maharaj Ji talks about them, the East Coast premies bliss out, but quiet down quickly so that they can continue to listen to satsang.
"And yet," Maharaj Ji continues, "it's just so beautiful, Well, it's not beautiful when you look at it as them getting stuck at the airport."
The premies are not the only ones snowed in. At Kennedy Airport, conditions are bedlam. Passengers scream for tickets and flights. "What can we do?" the airlines say. "It's an act of God!" The premies laugh and share satsang. They see Maharaj Ji's control.
"But you look at it in a very broad way," Maharaj Ji says, "and to see that there's just that much more time waiting for that airplane, to just sit there, and that opportunity to just do meditation, to listen to some more satsang, to share some more satsang."
That is what they do. They share satsang and do meditation. And yet something is missing.
"I could feel that love," said one premie, "turning to lust."
The airports don't clear until Saturday afternoon. Some flights do not arrive until early Sunday morning. But, at least in New York, not a premie cancels.
"If we had had to wait until Sunday to just sing Arti," a New Yorker explains, "or just see Maharaj Ji walk off the stage, none of us would have hesitated to come."
"Just let go," says Guru Maharaj Ji. "Thank you very much."
Of course, his physical presence leaves us that night, slipping away as the Holi band plays, "You Make Me Feel Brand New." But in a few hours, he will be seated on a magnificent darshan stage, a few feet behind the glistening "sea" of foil, premies silently making their way through the latest Tunnel of Bliss to pause briefly in his majestic presence.
* * *
By 2 a.m. Saturday morning the auditorium is practically deserted. On the floor, half a dozen premies are doing Security service as John Baier, hall coordinator, limps along, his ankle sprained and his golf- cart borrowed. Sitting up in the balcony, the air is so thick with Holy Name it feels like you could cut it with a knife. It is silent. It is still. It is beautiful.
But behind the stage there is a flurry of activity, as carpenters, builders, seamstresses and designers work on the darshan stage. At 2 a.m.?
"The stage is never done," explains Guy, the electrician, "until eight Sunday night!"
"At first, I just resisted," says Jenny, a seamstress who has been up for the last two nights. "I hate sewing. But I broke through and surrendered myself."
As Jenny works on the darshan curtain, Alfie, the carpet layer, is taking measurements. He would like to lay carpet, but his tools have been locked in a room and nobody has a key.
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"I'm having fun," he says. "It's just a nice element of surrender." But how will they lay the carpet?
"I'm going to bend like a reed in the wind," says architect Ed D'Andrea. "Just go with the flow and see if the door gets open, and if it doesn't, kick it down!"
The last measure proves unnecessary when someone shows up with a key half an hour later. Service is experienced, and before long the hall is re-opened and satsang begins.
Several hours later, premies line up silently, in meditation, bearing their small gifts for Maharaj Ji, trying to open their hearts, to feel his love. Satsang continues flowing out front, while the sacred queue makes its way through the corridors and down the stairways, many eyes closed, silent smiles being exchanged, Holy Name breathing us together like a garland. All chit-chat banished. And the light on top of the tallest sail flashing, flashing, flashing.
Backstage, the Light of the world sits magnificently showing a small smile now and then, granting Holy Breath, appearing so large, so immense, in the eyes of each premie who comes before him, then melts out in a cloud of private, personal silence in the depths of the arena-turned-ship.
Nearby is the darshan recovery area. In this secluded area, some people are crying while others are grinning ear to ear. Some seem to get in by accident; they walk from one end to the other, just smiling, and leave. Some close their eyes and meditate, but others stare through open eyes that do not see. Your best friend may walk up to you and still not recognize you.
Several people faint, and a few burst into fits of hysterical laughter, filled with Maharaj Ji's divine humor. Everyone seems to be filled with that love, that presence, that Guru Maharaj Ji. Darshan.
That night, after Maharaj Ji returns to the residence for dinner, and the light has stopped flashing (but everyone is keeping an eye on it to see if it might come back on at some point), Joe Anctil interrupts music from Jiva to announce that the snowbound New York premies have arrived at last and are entering the hall.
The arrivals are greeted by the song, "Don't Be Sad," and if they ever were, they definitely aren't now. Soon everyone joins in the "Maharaj Ji Boogie": "All I wanna say, is BHO-lee-ay!" Thousands of premies are raising their arms as one, whooping and crying out, "Jai Satchitanand!" in time with the band.
At 11:20 p.m., the light begins to flash for a few seconds, triggering a massive reaction. Then it goes off again. Soon afterward, Joe tells us this has been a false alarm. But actually, Maharaj Ji is in the hall, wanting to surprise us, and eight minutes later he is onstage.
Sitting beneath those big sails, he reminds us that every
8 January/ February, 1978
ship needs a Captain - somebody to take all the complications and make them simple for his sailors.
To the delight of the latecomers, Maharaj Ji promises to hold another darshan line for them the next day.
And he says he wants the Sunday program to end early so nobody gets in dutch with their bosses.
He says it is important to treat our employers gently so they can get used to the idea that we are going to keep on attending these festivals as long as they are being held. And he cracks everybody up by imagining somebody's boss saying: "Have you been to that goo-roo's again?"
It is his joking way of impressing on us the importance of these precious opportunities for darshan. Is it ever the thing to miss, he asks our hearts. And he says: "So many more programs are going to happen - so many more premies are going to be listening to satsang …"
As we sing Arti to him, certain lines ring out with special significance: "Guru's boat is the Holy Name … I walk on the true way today … Nectar from Satguru's Feet is so holy …"
We have walked past those Feet today, tasting the sweetness of that nectar, here aboard the Good Ship Holy Name. All of us except those piped aboard late, due to the storm at sea. And they will do so tomorrow.
This time, as Maharaj Ji slips off the stage, the Holi band is playing the song, "We are Sailing."
* * *
The oval panel behind Maharaj Ji's chair has gone through daily changes, from starfish to a smaller floral design, and now, Sunday morning, for the first time it bears a photograph of Shri Hans Ji Maharaj.
The red light begins to flash early in the afternoon, just as a brother is singing, "Grace, Grace, descend on me." Maharaj Ji is here to give darshan to the late arrivals from the East Coast. Once again, the gentle queue softly floats back to the magic stage it's behind the ocean of foil.
Durga Ji appears at midafternoon to share satsang. She recalls a day when she was sad, but then heard Bill Patterson giving a satsang in which he quoted Maharaj Ji as saying, "Wherever Marolyn goes, Grace follows along with her."
Maharaj Ji is on the stage 15 minutes later. In this last afternoon's satsang, he jokes with us about concepts of a heaven in an office building - with no elevators in the shafts, since the angels already have wings.
As always, the punch line is magnificent, and beyond the level of mere humor: "Through this Knowledge, we already are in heaven. Those pearly gates really are within inside of us."
Later, Maharaj Ji changes into the Krishna costume and is crowned by Durga Ji. With candles in many hands, we sing Arti to him - the houselights dim and a spotlight shining on the Lord. "The rockets red glare," says one initiator of the sight. "Just surrender," Maharaj Ji says after Arti. "And that's it."
Soon, Jiva is declaring once more that all they want to say is "BHO-lee-ay," and the energy bounces off the walls and the ceiling. The light on the big sail flashes for a few minutes more, telling us silently when Maharaj Ji has left the building.
Once again, we feel the pang_ of separation from that glowing face we've basked in for three days. Once more, we are forced to seek his essence inside ourselves. And, once again, we walk out into a cold night and head out for snowy highways, knowing the warmth we have found is sufficient to melt all the ice and snow and sorrow of this great big world.
* * *
A postscript about the stage was passed along by Bill Patterson in a Denver satsang the following week.
Bill said Maharaj Ji had decided, after the Kansas City festival was over, that there had been something wrong with that stage which drew everyone's attention so much.
The problem, Maharaj Ji had said, was that it was TOO beautiful. It served as a "disattraction" from the true focal point of our Knowledge experience.
Maharaj Ji told Bill the ideal stage would be a simple, black background with only a white chair in the very center.
* * *
The illusion of a big sailing /ship, there in the heart of Midwestern America, has been reduced to scrap. The arena is, once again an arena.
One premie looks at the now-empty hall. "Even his Grace," the premie says, "is by his Grace."
"I think I'm in love," sighs another.
"Anybody who thinks they accomplished something," says Ed D'Andrea, "only has to see a stage come down and evaporate into a trash can to see the impermanence. The only thing left is What you experience."
Well, almost the only thing left. Maharaj Ji has given us a New Year's resolution, "Not only one year's resolution, but till we exist in this world: to constantly surrender, to really get into that effort of satsang, service, and meditation." So with that reminder ever stronger in our hearts, on to the next festival!
Kansas City, January 21, 1978
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