The Guru was a classical pianist—a serious person. Ray could fiddle, but not read music.

Cleary had a cross-hatch of lines around her eyes that made her look wise and wistful. She had raisin-colored hair with a few grays. She let my sister pull one out and the pop it made was the death sound.

“Tell your teachers you’re finished with cave painting,” Ray had pronounced one evening. “There go Tom and Laura.”

That was us. He walked his fingers. “Moving up the ladder of spiritual evolution.”

Liking something was not happiness. Not liking something was not unhappiness.
Laura was tall and weedy like Ray, with cold blond hair parted down the left seam of her skull, and I was small for my age, with what Penny Del Deo said were sable eyes, to flatter Cleary.

That high-pitched whine was the miter saw, Kai told us. If you listened closely you could hear a guttural series of burps: the knotty waste being devoured. The Sanctuary had a wood shop, cut its own boards for its own cabins. The cabins had beautiful names, said Kai, which the Guru had given. Lupine and Ozera, Columbine and Kitezh. Morye Odeyal, which was Sea of Blankets.

The Guru’s First Beautiful Wife picked up a rusted blade the shape of an aluminum pie plate. Ray whistled. “Lost any fingers?”

Kai had oval, hooded eyes, a long pale face with painful-looking moles the color of ketchup. “We all have Service,” she said mildly. “I cook for my Beloved and His Inner Circle.”

Ray tried to sound casual. “How long have you been here?”

“As long as my Beloved.”

Ray whistled again.

When the tour was over, Kai walked us back to the sandy lip of the road. There wasn’t a gate or a flag or a sign or anything. “It’s like the Practice,” said Kai. “It just starts. From nowhere, each moment.”

There was a pole barn with a corrugated roof of pewter. The dormered farmhouse had a banging storm door (Wakes up Sleepers, crowed the Guru, Avadhoot Master King Ivanovich), and there was a cluster of single-story sheds with molting paint, dirty as a seagull’s wing but smelling of more exotic fowl. The Guru imported birds like hothouse flowers.

The Guru’s nine wives were Kai, Sita, Larissa, Tamsen, Dovorah, Ronnie, Amina, Heidi, and Piti. The Jersey cows in the pole barn were Masha, Pasha, Sasha, Dasha, and Irinka.
The Guru was good with names.

In the Soviet Union, murmured Kai, He had studied only music and literature.

Spruce trees, scrappy and stiff from salt spray, were culled from the lacy hemlock. Their resinous knots bit the blade and they kicked out violently. The sawdust on the floor of the woodshop was buttery, like cake crumbs. Devotees built picnic tables and benches. The profitability of the woodshop showed that the Guru was a practical man despite His early training, a farmer-yogi, in the mold of the Tibetan teacher Marpa. To cover the remaining expenses of the Sanctuary, there was tithing.

And the zendo, not exactly by-the-sea, but it appeared to float in the pool-like clearing in the forest.

We learned that Penny Del Deo was a real favorite. She had her own cabin on the Sanctuary. Cleary peeked in a window and reported it was a little jewelbox.

Ray and Cleary left before dawn for the zendo. My sister and I were timid at first about getting our own breakfast. Ray went directly from the zendo to his Service. Cleary came home, at once flushed and lightheaded, and washed our bowls out.

Ray reported that there was no embarrassment in meeting the Guru face to face. Not like with a palm reader, he said, the way you were afraid to catch her eye and see the disdain she had for you for falling for her in the first place. Whew, said Ray, eyeing Cleary.

Anyway, this guy doesn’t give a hoot about your fortune, said Ray. Or your future. Here is a guy who really lives in the moment. Here is a guy who blows his breath straight into your breath so your two stinking breaths mingle. Here is a Living God, not just a long story, said Ray, shaking his head, chuckling.

Ray had ordered the kind of textbooks and workbooks for children who were ill or at sea, he said, and the way he saw it we could finish two grades by the end of the summer.

I was ten and my sister was six. Almost too old for baby teeth, but privately I wondered if the love of the Guru was like the tooth fairy, her existence contingent on belief—and adoration.

Two grades—and then what? At first we couldn’t stand the food, the sprouts and shredded carrots with tamari, the turds of dried fruit. The fresh, raw milk tasted that like skin. Kai had warned that the Sanctuary wasn’t always on dairy. The diet called Kalma was best for reincarnation.

“And then what?” Ray echoed.

“Ah,” smiled Ray, answering himself, although he was pledged against rhetoric. “And then your spiritual education.”

“What about the milk?” I persisted.

A devotee wore an old-fashioned farm yoke hung with two buckets. He hauled the milk to the bay in a hundred daily trips. He poured the milk in salt water, which had no effect whatsoever on the ocean.

The true heart of the Sanctuary was the Concert Barn, its back to the blue forest. Inside, the stalls and the hayloft had been knocked out like teeth, and devotees had built a simple, raised platform for the Guru’s grand piano.

Zafus were arranged in rows on the floor, enough for the whole sangha, a community of disciples. There were a few space heaters on frayed extension cords, and kerosene lamps in tin houses corroded by sea air hung on nails. Word was the barn could hold two hundred people, although at the time of our arrival its capacity hadn’t been tested.

Our parents were to sit apart, the men and the women. Ray put an arm around each one of us—my sister and me—as we split off from Cleary.

There was Craig R., the courier, a poet-devotee with two freckle-colored horns of beard and his own canteen of water. You had to hydrate the husk after sitting meditation.

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