One of the most powerful aspects of Murshid S.A.M.’s manifestation was his accessibility to his mureeds. For me it meant that I was permitted to be present, observing him, during his interactions with others, and with other teachers.
I should say that my previous training (with Mother Mary at Mount Shasta) was almost Shamanistic: we were expected to be aware of all that occurred around us, and not to expect ready answers to the phenomena we observed. We were also encouraged to be stealthy in our approach to the teacher. In other words, there were mysteries to be discovered – Spiritual Keys to unlock the doors of this illusion we call reality.
It is, perhaps, this training which allowed me to “over-hear” a number of illuminating conversations between Murshid and a number of his contemporaries: Vosha Fisk, Joe & Gwin Miller, Frida Waterhouse, Theodore Reich, Gavin Arthur, Vilayat Khan, Samcher Beorse, and the subject of this reminiscence, Nataraja Guru.
It was the early summer of 1969, I was still living at Rancho Olampoli, outside of Novato, California. I was a mureed since February, and feeling a bit lost amidst my new spiritual family. It was a glorious day with sunshine and bird song, and during a walk on the grounds of the ranch I saw in the distance an orange robed figure strolling towards me. Some of the folks who lived there were all agog about the upcoming visit of a swami they had met in India and then invited to come to California. Thinking this must be the one, I walked toward him.
Sure enough it was a swami. “Namasti,” I said, bringing my hands together, “are you Swami gimmymoreanada?” “No,” he replied also with clasped hands, “but, since there is only one teacher, you may treat me as him.”
His reply caught my attention, and I found myself giving him my spiritual lineage. He bypassed Murshid, and fixated on Mother Mary. “A Holy Mother,” he exclaimed, “here in America. You must take me to her immediately!” After I explained that she was on retreat, and not seeing people, he relented, and asked to see a picture of her. I agreed, and went to my room to get my picture of her. When I returned, he demanded that I give it to him, which I declined, claiming that it was not mine to give away, only to hold and honor.
He then looked at me with an intense gaze, and I found my self posturing in a totally involuntary and unthought of mudra – left hand at heart with right hand pointed upwards from the heart. “Ah,” he said, observing me. “Very good. I am at the next level.”
Needless to say I was astounded. He gave me his card, with his San Francisco address and phone number on the back, and walked away.
I got to Murshid as quickly as I could, he was at the Mentorgarden in San Francisco, and related this story to him. He went to the telephone and called the guru and made an appointment to meet with him the next day. “Since you started this,” he said, “you had better be there with me.” So, the next day Murshid and I went to meet this Guru together.
On the way to meet with Nataraja Guru I remember one of those seminal moments that stay with you for decades there after: We were driving to our appointment, when Murshid started crying. “One of my mureeds lives there,” he answered to my question. “He is in a lot of pain, and won’t come to me for help. All I can do is feel his pain. It is terrible.”
In the next few blocks we came to the apartment where the guru was staying. As we climbed the stairs to his apartment, he came rushing up the stairs behind us. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” he said. “I suddenly realized there was no food in the house to serve Presad with.” “Water will be fine,” Murshid answered. “Or, if you will allow me, I’ll help you prepare the food.” I watched them chat around the kitchen – cutting vegetables, and mixing sauces. Murshid gave his linage – with special emphasis on his Hindu connections. The swami said that he had met Swami Papa Ramdas, and honored both him and Mother Krishnabai. That presently he was teaching the yoga of right eating, and had a large ashram in India.
Nataraja Guru suddenly looked up from his food, and in a very strong voice he asked Murshid: “Why are you here? We need you in India. Come to India to teach. Please. I will give you half of my disciples if you do.”
I was very surprised by this. But what Murshid answered shocked me even more. “Please,” Murshid replied, “we need you in America. I have too much work for me here. Please stay and teach, and I will give you half of my disciples.” I remember thinking – I hope he doesn’t include me in the half he gives away. I mean, I wasn’t even a vegetarian, although I was responsible for bringing them together.
Anyway, their offers seemed (I hoped) to be a form of politness, and Murshid asked the Guru to address our group this coming Sunday at the Garden of Inayat in Novato. I remember that a lot of us were expecting a formal address on Hinduism, or yoga, or at least vegetarianism. What we got as a 45 minute talk on the time he met Hazrat Inayat Khan in Switzerland (when he was a young student from India), and how important it had been in his life.
For a long while nothing more seemed to occur which related to this series of events, and then many years later, when I was running the Rainbow Bridge Book Store in San Francisco, I looked up to see a tall man looking through our selection of books on the Bhagavadgita. He seemed so familiar to me, and yet I couldn’t put my finger on where I knew him from.
As I walked up to him the words just came out of my mouth. “Excuse me, but do you know Nataraja Guru?” The man looked me in shock. “How did you know?” He asked. “I am his successor” And then he turned and ran from my shop, and I never saw nor heard from either of them again. At least so far.