Thanks to Cartwheels in a Sari, I have been contacted by many former disciples from all over the world. It has been incredibly rewarding to receive letters commenting on my book and sharing their own stories about the Sri Chinmoy Center. As I’ve written before, the greatest joy thus far has been that the book was what reconnected me with my dearest friend (“Chahna” in Cartwheels). Growing up in the Sri Chinmoy Center, there were about twenty children who formed what Guru called the “Children’s group,” the core of children who were disciples in the Tri-State area. Of course over the years, many of these children left the cult either because their family decided enough was enough or because they were old enough to make their own choices. Only about five of the original group remain as disciples. For the others, once they left the cult, in typical fashion, they were banished and not allowed to remain connected to those left behind.
When Cartwheels was released, I had hoped that I would be able to find that core group, the ones who spent my childhood with, and be able to reconnect and share experiences. In the last few weeks, I have received letters from a few of these ‘children,’—they are now grown, scattered throughout America and Europe; some have families of their own, careers, homes, and full lives, while others seem to be still drifting, searching for a safe community, a connection to something larger than themselves.
Yesterday was an amazing day because it was spent with one of the ‘children,’ whose family had become disciples of Sri Chinmoy in the early 1970s. For hours we reminisced about people and events that seemed so impossibly distant and yet so clearly preserved in our shared experiences.
“Do you remember the trip to Niagara Falls?” the former disciple asked, and launched into the song that Guru had taught us along the way.
I burst out laughing. In around 1986, Guru told all the children that he was bringing us on a special bus trip to see Niagara Falls. No parents were allowed. This was to be an outing solely for the children—plus two invited grown-ups, his personal guards. We were to meet at Guru’s house after mid-night, and then we loaded in the mini-bus clutching our pillows. Guru showered us with sugary prasad and taught us songs until we all fell asleep. When we arrived at Niagara Falls, he took us all on the famed ‘Maid of the Mist’ ride that creeps close to the thundering water while the spray soaks everyone. Guru always enjoyed boat rides; it was an activity that he selected as an outing. Normally he would sit on the boat’s deck, resting or singing songs while having his feet massaged as the disciples sat around meditating upon him, but on this boat ride, the noise and spray kept even Guru standing and peering out at the immense power before us. Later in that same day, Guru had the driver bring us to a shopping mall, where he gave us all a small amount of money and time for us to roam and then reconvene. Shopping was another one of Guru’s favorite pastimes. He was a phenomenal bargain hunter, and from his childhood in Bangladesh he had mastered the art of haggling with shop keepers for a better price no matter the price tag. In posh department stores, Guru used his charms for a reduced price even when the item wasn’t on sale. As kids, having our God set us free in a mall with a pocketful of blessed cash, was pretty outstanding. During the long bus ride home to Queens, Guru composed a song in honor of every one on the trip, and we sang for hours, swelling with pride at our fortunes. In fact, the entire trip felt that way. It was a unique time where without our parents and without any of Guru’s important events such as concerts, lectures, meditations on the agenda—Guru made us—his children—the center of his world—and in his company, we all felt like a true family.
Yesterday, reflecting back at those years, we laughed over many experiences when we followed our Guru’s wishes and whims, no matter where it took us. We talked about how, years later, Guru created a campaign to have national and international sites renamed in his honor. The program was called the “Sri Chinmoy Peace Blossoms,”—the idea was to present to officials the concept of dedicating significant monuments and natural wonders to world peace. Of course in doing so, Guru would ensure that his own name was added in as well; thus, the sites could be viewed as being renamed for him. One of the most significant places that Guru coveted was Niagara Falls. And, like most of his desires, the disciples got Guru got what he wanted.
In 1992, as Center ‘children’ we were a lot older and more distant, when an official plaque was affixed to one of the main vistas overlooking Niagara Falls, declaring it an official “Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossom” site. That trip—so different from our first one—was an official visit, with press and dignitaries, and Guru was far too busy for boats and shopping expeditions. By then, too, we, the children, were undergoing our own changes, peering out at the world, longing for what we couldn’t have.
But yesterday, with an old friend, while our own children played together, for a few hours, the pure excitement of that trip away with just a bus load of children and our Guru, came flooding back.
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