Family - the one you grew up with since your day of rebirth. Genes and chromosomes had nothing to do with it; a higher order of selection brought us together now, and where else in the universe could 12,000 brothers and sisters come together and feel only the intimacy of love?
Like children everywhere, we went to school. One brother mentioned the irony of it all: so many people who tried for so long to take over universities and college campuses had finally achieved their goal. Premies in the dormitories, premies in the dining halls, premies on the basketball courts, auditoriums and playing fields, and everyone registered for a single class, Devotion 101.
The registration line flowed well into the afternoon that first day, and the rains came. (Later, Mahatma Ji would tell us that the first to greet the Lord is, traditionally, the god of rain.) So we gave in to being soaked - some of us still in line, others sitting in front of the great dome waiting for the evening program, and most of us running about, now seeking shelter, now reappearing because there was so much family to see. Relatives who had gone unhugged since the Astrodome, so many light years ago.
swirling each other around
Walking from one place to another was like walking from state to state, or lifetime to lifetime, and if you weren't careful, making it to a precise destination could easily take hours. The same scene all around you, you were a scene: two premies - any two premies - running toward each other, shouting "Jai Satchitanand!" and hugging, swirling each other around, smiling into each other's eyes. Then the odd, curious, wonderful "festival conversation" begins.
You tell each other where you're living now and what service you're doing, ask about mutual lovers on this endless path. Then suddenly, those famous words - "Well, really, there's nothing to say." They go unspoken, like the Word itself, and you part. You haven't seen this brother or sister in a great long while, but you part after five minutes in each other's arms. Because you both know you've been on the same road all the time, making the same stopovers, feeling the same growing pains and laughing the same joys. It's called family realization: in your time apart, you've each come closer to the love of our Lord, so you're closer together. What's there to say?
a beautiful sight
By 8:00 PM Friday, 10,000 premies gathered together under a sea of plastic, waiting for a program they knew would never happen. Looking at the crowd from a distance was a beautiful sight. What moments before had been a thousand separate clusters now became one giant tent. Science take note: a human being can be wet and feel total bliss.
Suddenly, everyone started running. Divine rumor: Maharaj Ji was going to speak to us indoors, in one of those nameless coral-colored buildings once belonging to the University of Massachusetts. We ran over hills and across fields, practicing the fine art of meditation in motion, and ended up in separate rooms. Some of us heard the mahatmas and the bands; others gathered in smaller satsang pools or listened to a brother from some faraway state play "Lila" on a tinkly piano. The police came, saying something about too many people, then guarded the door to the main satsang hall, staring at these beautiful men in saffron robes who used foreign words like "peace," "love" and "God."
That night and every night at Guru Puja you sat on the stone-hard floor of your dorm and the only thing to disturb your concentration was a flute on the campus green or the joyous shout of "Jai Satchitanand!"
Saturday morning was sunshine and three thousand bodies in colored sheets sitting in meditation before the main stage.
"I took off," one brother said. "I've never sat in meditation with so many people before. Opening my eyes felt like waking up after falling asleep in someone else's house. Everything felt completely new and different."
medium of exchange was love
A smaller dome had been assembled by the campus pond and there were hours of satsang for the thirsty. Nearby the colored canopies of the family bazaar flew in the wind. With only a short time to prepare, premies from across the country had brought their words, crafts, skills, crazy ideas and contraptions - over a hundred booths in all. It was a bit like Marakesh, but the medium of exchange was love. Instead of hash pipes and woven carpets, here was non-alcoholic beer, one hundred per cent kosher massage parlors, fruit champagne to celebrate the wedding of the year, books filled with songs divine, baragons guaranteed to keep your spine straight, and barbers waiting to cut off all that stuff covering your seventh chakra.
Inside, the student center was filled to capacity. Throughout each day, the Performers of the Living Arts gave satsang in the form of music, theater and dance. Did you catch the play about the animals on Dark Mountain, freed from slavery by the light of a magic lantern? Oh, it felt good to hiss the villain and cheer the hero. Later a magician poured endless water out of a small container and manifested a purple scarf in the pocket of a child.
Guru Maharaj Ji's dream
Each day at four o'clock, perfection. The 14-piece band started with cacophony and
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melted together into the sounds of nature. Then the Gopis came with music in their fingers, crying for the presence of their Lord. Here is Guru Maharaj Ji's dream made flesh - "Krishna Lila."
"It was a rush," one brother said. "When Krishna returned to the Gopis in the last scene, he was dressed in the same costume Guru Maharaj Ji was wearing at Houston. The room was one big chill."
The day continued - films, plays, music, dance, workshops - but before long everyone began to sense that the festival wasn't happening on just this level; there was the beautiful feeling that whatever was happening had a meaning and significance transcending any activities taking place. So it didn't matter when you missed something listed in the program brochure. Like any festival, Guru Puja wasn't what we did or saw.
"There was a point where it seemed like the bazaar and the workshops and the music and even the satsang was all a cover for what was really going on," a sister said. "What was going on was beyond words - not just in metaphorical terms, but in a very real way. We were all being given a kick, a giant push in the right direction - together, Maharaj Ji was showing us how to love - but more than just how to accept love, how to share it. It's like we've learned how to inhale, but we've forgotten how to exhale. Guru Maharaj Ji's teaching us that, to exhale and relax and let it flow."
All this and more. All of us together and each of us alone. Every one of us, travelling through the events of Guru Puja, learning what we have to learn about our personal devotion, wanting to open up more and more not only to our family but to our common father, feeling the pain when we can't let go, breathing free when we finally touch the grace of freedom that was there all the time. Together at a festival with 12,000 premies, and completely alone with our Lord. And at last it was time to see him - the rain god had done his thing; now all was clear and the feeling was electric.
all in it together
We stood and cheered when the sun dipped below the mountains, applauding this very lovely stage show in the sky. By the time Maharaj Ji and Durga Ji arrived, we had been dancing for over three hours.
For many it was the first time they had seen Durga Ji in person. One sister said: "When I saw Durga Ji sitting next to Maharaj Ji I began to cry. It was too much. All I could think of was that Maharaj Ji had finally made us a family. We were finally all in it together in a way that none of us could escape. I looked around at all the premies and realized that they were my brothers and sisters with a depth that I had never experienced. Then I realized something bigger, something more complete. This Knowledge, this love, this experience, has to be shared with the rest of the world. I couldn't be selfish - there was too much love."
Over and over, Guru Maharaj Ji kept stressing how beautiful the festival was: "Mucho fantastico," he called it. He stressed how all the premies should take as much advantage of the festival as possible, "Because, love is something that's the most fantastic thing that we'll ever want, that we've ever needed. And this is what we've ever wanted! And that love is what we should try to gather from this program."
our souls danced
And after he spoke to us, we danced. We danced as he and Durga Ji would dance the next night, as the mahatmas would dance at his bidding: arms flailing the air like flames leaping into the night. When the stage was bare, we looked at a vision of his presence, took it within, and danced. The band played for another hour, and there was no doubt about it: each of us, every one of the thousands, was dancing away his mind. Shoes off, shirts off, blankets heaped under the chairs, we flew across the fields. No one chose a partner who could be seen; this was a dance divine, personal movement between devotee and Lord. Dancing loose, dancing free, touching the energy and letting it move us, our hands, our feet, our heads, our bodies; our souls danced until it hurt to breathe and still we danced, whirling the Dervishes to shame. Let it go, brothers and sisters, let it go!
Guru Puja '74 featured the first "curb service" darshan ever. Instead of having the premies line up and file past Maharaj Ji, he had a throne attached to the side of a small truck and passed by the line of premies.
Leading the procession was a troop of WPC with bullhorns who shouted out instructions and procedures to take when Maharaj Ji got close. Then came Maharaj Ji's vehicle and the Lord Himself. After Maharaj Ji, came a truck full of mahatmas accepting dedications followed in turn by another truck with premies handing out prasad.
a personal experience
"I was close to the front of the line when Guru Maharaj Ji came around to give darshan," said a sister named Kathy. "Then just after the trailer passed, someone asked if I would like to ride in the security car that was following the procession. I realized later that it was just Guru Maharaj Ji's way of showing me a little lesson. I'd never watched a darshan line before. As I sat there and saw those thousands of people file past Maharaj Ji and do pranam, I was suddenly overcome with the intense realization that each and every person had a personal experience with Guru Maharaj Ji. Whether they came away from Maharaj Ji's feet laughing or weeping, for each person Maharaj Ji had extended his own unique greeting of perfect love. He's really our father, in every respect, and he's come to bring us together as a family in every respect."
a big family now
"And it's gonna grow," said Maharaj Ji at the final program on Sunday night, "It's gonna be so beautiful, you know. We have to understand that we are all a big family now. And like, if somebody asks a question, 'Well, why are you doing that?' Why are you doing that?', all you can say to them is, 'Listen. You mind? This is a big family, and if a big family does something, you mind.'
"We are a big garland," he said. "We have been sewn together by this thread of love which everybody dreams of - but we don't dream, because we have already."
The official reports had it that over three hundred people received Knowledge at Guru Puja out of fifteen hundred who were eagerly seeking initiation into Knowledge. The remaining thirteen hundred were told to wait and receive Knowledge in their home towns.
On Monday morning we scrambled for the final good breakfast, sat on our backpacks, duffle bags and faded valises and waited for the buses. A car loaded with children had battery failure, 'til a group of premies gave it a charge. A van pulled out of the parking lot and disappeared, heading for some place somebody named Wisconsin.
There'll be centuries of growing before our next reunion. Strike out the prefix; for premies there is only union, for this family is truly blessed.
* Story by Dan Hinckley and Cliff Yudell *