I remember vividly something otherworldly that I had experienced when I was a boy of ten. Not out of the body experiences as some experience but something mysterious and vivid yet. And this happened just once only. Let me narrate it. It happened in an evening. There was a river flowing beside the village I was born. Every evening we, 5 to 10 boys of the village, gathered on the sandy bank of the river to play and run about. That was a full moon evening. That evening as I reached there for playing I found no one which was unusual. The whole river and the landscape were filled with bright moonlight but no one was there. As that was my usual playground I was little afraid of anything or anyone. A fair weather road of sand, mud and red morhum pebbles passed through the river but it was very sparsely populated at that hour. I waited for my friends. After about an hour as none turned up I began to sing a kirtan out of frustration. In the beginning it was to amuse myself, to keep my mind occupied, to shed some of my nervousness which a ten year old felt when forced to be on his own, may be for the first time of his life. But as the evening wore on and yet not a soul was to be seen anywhere then I began to sing loudly, as loud as I could be, “with full-throated ease” as Keats would have described. I think I must have sung loudly for about half an hour, more out of boredom and loneliness than because of any religious fervor. Why I chose to sing kirtan was easy to explain; it was because kirtan was the only form of poetry I had seen people sing in groups in public. A few years later I would be initiated into the films and film songs and then all the vestiges of poetry of any other kind including the kirtans would simply recede into the background of my mind as a result of the strong gales of Hindi film songs. But that was yet to come. At the age of ten kirtans ruled.

But Though I liked kirtans yet I didn’t pay much attention to their words nor I was serious enough to make myself commit them to memory painstakingly. As a result, that evening when it became my lot to fall on my resources to amuse myself I discovered that the paucity, the poverty or the scantiness of my resources was glaring. I couldn’t sing even a single kirtan in its entirety; I couldn’t proceed beyond the opening stanza of any song. So within that half an hour of singing “with full-throated ease” I must have sung the opening stanzas of five or six kirtan songs whereas only one full kirtan would have been sufficient to fill that much of time. However, what is the use of judging the activities of a ten year old from the vantage point of a mature man? Suffice it to say that I was trying my best to keep away my nervousness and boredom by singing and by filling the empty, lonely time of the evening as best as I could possibly think of. Suddenly I noticed a man passing on the road stop in his track and take a turn to face me. He was nobody I knew of, none of my relatives or acquaintances.

He was on the road, about 25 feet away from me. He called me to himself accompanied with a few gestures of his hands and I could see the movements of his hands from that distance quite clearly in that moonlit evening. I obeyed not without a considerable amount of curiously. Also in that hither -to -unusual lonely evening even the presence or company of a complete stranger was better than no company at all. So I complied unhesitatingly. As I came to him the first thing that stroke me was his face. It was unlike any I had seen. He was handsome, noble and as urbane and majestic as the Buddha himself. Unlike many young men who finding me alone called me to themselves and asked many frivolous, spurious and salacious questions; there was not a trace of frivolity in him. There was only an honesty, a nobility of purpose and manner with him and he had that intangible quality that I found in some rare men which invariably I could recognize but failed to describe in words that made me respect, revere and love the person before me. He straightforwardly without any ado asked me to sing the song/kirtan that I was singing as he came. That mysterious request made me nervous and shy. But as he insisted on listening, I had to comply. As I sang the song I found I was extremely shy and all my earlier spontaneity when I was alone and singing to myself was gone. I knew I must have cut a very sorry and awkward figure to him as I seemed to myself too. Yet surprisingly I found him listening intently with rapt attention, with his eyes closed. As I finished he opened his eyes and requested me to sing the song again. This time I complied most willingly and happily but not without considerable amount of disbelief. Such a poor singer and such a bad memorizer like me and yet this kind of unalloyed, pure interest and a flame like steady attention! From a person with such a royal and upright demeanor! For the first time in my life I experienced in those moments the cleansing, overwhelming and overpowering power of unconditional and uncritical listening. It filled me with a joy and lightness of being which I had never experienced before. Let me remind you again that I was not a good singer but that hitherto unknown feeling of being accepted completely as I was with all my shortcomings and deficits by someone so noble made me much more relaxed and at home. So this time I tried to sing as I had been singing when I was alone just before he had appeared on the scene. He was all ears to my song in that unforgettable moonlit night and he was the kind of listener every great or small singer always wished for. As a premonition and foretaste of things to come much ahead in future it served me well when I found the same kind of acceptance from some western men and women to some of my stories and writings.

As I finished my song, actually It was only a stanza from a kirtan for that was all I could remember, for the first time in my life how I wished that I had remembered the whole song to myself so that I could have served him more, sung him more, made it possible for him to listen to me more. I would have loved to sing to him the entirety of that kirtan itself. What a lovely experience it was! In fact what wonderful experiences all such sharings were which broke down all the barriers between two human beings and opened up all the possibilities for a heart to heart communication that established that “all life was one”, that “the Buddhas and all the other sentient beings are but aspects of the Universal Mind only,” that “all distinctions are but falsely imagined”.

At the end of my singing he nodded his head vigorously in appreciation, opened his eyes and after a bit of fumbling in his shirt pocket mysteriously fished out something and while offering it to me with an extended hand I saw that it was a coin. As I eagerly extended my hand towards his hand that held the coin, it seemed to me he dropped the coin in front of me just as my hand was about to touch his. To this day I am not sure whether the coin had just slipped out of his hand just before I could hold it or it was deliberately dropped on the sand so that he could make good his escape while I was furiously searching for the coin which was submerged in the sand as it fell from his hand. I had never expected any reward or money from him; it was a pure joy to serve him. Such a perfect listener I had never seen before. Nor did I know the power of unconditioned, attentive listening that shook me to my roots and filled me with such peace and emotions as I had never known before. So expecting any other reward or remuneration from him was out of my mind. But as the shiny coin flashed in the bright moonlight I was so overwhelmed by a feeling of having been considered worthy of a reward from such a tall, erect and noble personage that my joy knew no bound and as I looked around to say a thank you or a namaste to him who meant so much to me he was of course nowhere to be found. I should have run half a mile on the road in the direction he was going when I first saw him, but the lucre in my hand had begun to work its magic. Relegating the man who could have been my savior, my benefactor, my Buddha, to a corner of my mind I hurriedly ran to one of the village stores and bought the largest sugar candy in that store. The joy on getting that coin as a reward has not been lost on me even today almost after half a century and the intensity of that joy could only be experienced by a ten year old child whom none had given a coin till that day. The joy of buying the largest sugar candy in that store was also a dream come true for him. So the sugar candy gave much joy till it lasted. But afterwards I was filled with remorse. For a piece of sugar candy I lost sight of a holy man! I wonder why did I always have to find myself digging up a coin in the sand just at the moment I was very near to my nirvana? Why do I have to always lose myself in satisfying a long standing or a passing craving, say like buying the largest sugar candy in a store, while right before me was the Buddha himself whose feet I could have washed with my tears or at whose feet I could have learnt the wisdom that delivered one from all sufferings? Why did I have to bury all my talents in sands while trying to find out a coin? I am saying this because this has been a recurring, sad feature in my life.

At that moment the importance of the event was lost on me, I was only overjoyed by the monetary reward/benefit. But as days went by I began to wonder who that mysterious listener was. As we never met again, I wondered if he was an angel. If so what was his message to me? To sing God’s name the rest of my life? To serve human beings as best as I could, in the way and manner available to me? To be like him, noble, upright, aristocratic and yet fully attentive to poetic, spiritual, creative and finer aspects of life wherever and whomever it might be found with? I won’t know. But as Marshal McLuhan said,”The medium is the message”; what a lovely,noble, upright medium was he! To this day as I recollect the incident a deep peace fills me. I feel as if I saw the Buddha that night. That incident has also found a prominent place among my nightly dreams with that Buddha-like regal figure raptly listening to my song with closed eyes, nodding peacefully his head in complete understanding of my foible and frailties, forgiving all my deficits and deficiencies, in the back ground of that moonlight flooded night on that solitary river bank of sand and sand dunes. Then a deep peace fills me. My eyes get blinded with golden light. When I wake up the dream goes away, but the peace stays with me. How could it be otherwise? Is not peace my real nature, my true self? Is not my small self but an aspect of the Self, the Impersonal, Universal Self?

Buddha said,”One must work diligently for one’s salvation.”
He also said that he didn’t want Nirvana till even the last blade of grass had not attained it.

I am sure one day the craving for the sugar candy will be gone. Even the craving for the salvation or the Nirvana will also be gone. The journey, the working diligently for the salvation,the effort, the process and the progress towards realization is a reward enough in itself. I think the mysterious listener of that night was a reminder to me of our potentialities and what we all are; peaceful, pure, wise, full of loving kindness and equanimity, compassionate souls.

May all find their peace and salvation. May all enjoy and experience the lightness of their beings. May all become spontaneous, trusting and joyful. I trust that Life will give us many opportunities to experience what we really are, at first hand. Thereafter there will be no prop of second hand knowledge needed. Till that time even a borrowed light is better in the dark to find our way than no light at all. Meeting that stranger was nothing less than a sacred encounter, a holy pilgrimmage.