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“Happiness is cutting the strings to happiness,” he said, shrugging. Holy clown behavior. He snipped an invisible cord over his bald spot. His lower back seized and he put his narrow hands together and bowed testily, as if to say that he might have a hernia from sitting meditation but the body was the rag of the body. He pointed us to our cushions. He said, “Next time Laura should sit with the ladies.”
A girl with a round, rice-colored face was up on her knees, staring openly at my sister. Her black hair was downy and wild. I stared back and she darted out her snake tongue. When she waved to grownups in the audience they beamed back at her, avid with blessing. I watched her push her fingers into back bends; they touched her arms as if they were boneless.
Incense sifted through the air. You couldn’t help but breathe it.
First came the Guru’s child-sized page-turner, Dorothy. (We would learn that she hated children, like a small grown dog can’t abide a puppy of a larger breed.) Next, a slim young page in a Nehru collar: Adam, the jikki jitsu—meditation leader—who Ray would claim looked like a young Bob Dylan.
My sister changed her legs from lotus to knees to see better. Craig R., on the other side of Ray, pushed his face up to capture radiance.
The lid of the piano was open in half-flight, a crow’s wing, black and lustrous; a bell cleared the air of its last feathers.
And then, there He was, He who was called the Uprooted Center of the Cosmos.
He was huge, as tall as Ray but twice as broad, full of caloric life energy. His huge head was cabbage-shaped, white-tufted, and as a child in the Soviet Union, He had strolled Moika Embankment pulling sweets from thin air for His sweet-toothed mother.
I had heard that He might not be, at present, in His body. His body was not Him, Ray had explained. The laws of the universe were merely props for mortals. Why should the Guru abide by the body?
Nevertheless, He slid His incarnation out along the piano bench. He smoothed His great thighs and closed his small dry eyes as air expanded His belly. He was sat-chit-ananda, Happiness Spreading. He tilted his head back in private rapture.
My face was hot.
Ray spread his buttocks out on the zafu. I closed my ears against the gong and the nasal voice of the meditation leader: Let go of your stuff, you devotees of the Fully Realized. Let go, devotees, of your big muscleman breathing.
Surrender the body,
into the deep current,
surrender the spirit,
into the great fire
by His name, God
Then the music started.
It was surprisingly gentle. Pebbles and water, bells and chimes overlapping. It wasn’t hard to listen. The separate sounds made a long cradle. Before I knew what was happening I was inside the cradle. I did not have to act to listen.
I saw my sister close her eyes beside me.
Or inside a boat. It was music that could take you.
Drown your thoughts and render your mind to its own vibration. There were so many notes at once—how did He do it? How did He know so many different voices?
I looked sideways at my sister. I saw that when she closed her eyes she no longer looked like a worldly child, fearful and self-consoling. I saw that His music moved her organs from one side to the other as if they were caught at low tide between giant rocks, her heart in streamers like seaweed.
From our living room windows we could look across the road into the Guru’s holy forest. The woods of our worldly neighbors were like broken ladders, but Kishkindha, the Sanctuary forest, shimmered with self-consciousness, each leaf and needle waiting to be framed by a human eye. There was the swath of a dark green bough, like eyelashes, a Rorschach of blue sky behind it.
“He teases our fear,” said Ray, swollen with admiration. “He calls for sacrifice; calls it human sacrifice.” Ray fell for cleverness as well as magic.
Craig R., the courier, suggested we increase our tithe with the money saved from having the gas turned off in the house we rented. The living room was cold and it smelled like gas, strangely.
“He pries us open and we spill the old ego,” said the courier. He burrowed in his beard to find the nubby pink scar in the middle. He was grinning at our parents. “He’s not going to let you come all the way from O, Canada just to sit on your asses, yeah people?”
Cleary was straight as a flame. When the phone rang now, she wouldn’t answer, as if it would make her more mortal. Less inner life, less Guru.
John Hartshorn, the Guru’s lieutenant, leaned against our cold stove— Kalma was a raw diet. He ran his fingers through his hair, which was thin and charcoal without really having any gray in it. His ears were very neat, well-organized. He wasn’t really listening.
“Gratitude,” said Cleary. “Gratitude for this visit.” It sounded like a Christmas carol. It was April. That was the old language.
“There’s no problem with telephones,” said John Hartshorn. “There’s no renunciation-in-His-name, here, Cleary.”
Our mother looked stricken. John Hartshorn kept pressing. “He’s East-West. He’s Mystic-Musician-Saint-Farmer.”
Ray was nodding as if he were primed for any wonder.
“Listen,” said the courier. “Laura’s invited on the Sanctuary.”
“What?” Ray was already laughing incredulously. “Laura MacLaura?”
Ray MacFarland, over-grinning, chewing up his own scenery. My sister’s mouth turned down when she was shy, as if with old fashioned hardship. Being tall for her age had never endeared her to the type of grownups who “understood” children.
“Jesus, Ray,” said Hartshorn, pushing off the stove impatiently.
It was the black-haired girl from the Concert Barn, Una, who summoned my sister. Her mother was Kai, the First Beautiful. Her father was a Japanese Roshi who lived in Kyoto, a place where the clouds swept up from two sides of the sky to make a cloud pagoda. No wonder Una looked like a little Buddha from the fifth century, Ray said, planted in the raked gravel garden by the zendo.
“A half-God,” said Ray, delighted.