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faqs :: PB - Recollections of Him
1. First Meeting
What was the impact of your first meeting with PB? Was there a feeling of peace in his presence?
The impact of meeting PB was very powerful. Every time. Every day when He opened the door.
To give a little context, I've met many gurus and spiritual personalities, including several encounters with the Dalai Lama, and Shankaracarya in India. Each encounter was very wonderful, and each of these great beings has/had a distinctly different Presence.
My first encounter with PB was through the kind offices of my teacher Anthony Damiani. I met Anthony within days of coming to Cornell as a Freshman, and knew that he was the reason I'd come to Ithaca as soon as I encountered him. That was 1967. Over the next several years many of his students were able to visit with PB in Europe, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a week. Although I asked to go several times, PB never responded to my requests. By 1971 I had moved in to Wisdom's Goldenrod, where I lived as a monk with several other men for the next three years.
By 1972 not only had everyone else closely connected to Wisdom's Goldenrod met PB, but some (including my ex-girlfriend) had seen him quite often. I truly despaired of ever meeting him, and wondered what personal flaw or spiritual weakness was blocking my way - or rather which of my flaws and weaknesses were the blocks. Then one morning Anthony stopped by the Center and said: "Can you be ready to see PB by next week?" I said of course I could and proceeded to make hasty arrangements to travel to Switzerland (having never been abroad before). My itinerary - arranged by my backwater travel agent had me traveling by bus, plane, boat and rail for 48 hours from Ithaca to New York to London, then on to Paris and finally to Montreux Switzerland, where PB was living at the time. I was told that I should call PB the moment I arrived in Montreux and follow his instructions.
Although I'm a pretty hardy traveler, that trip was very exhausting for me - going through customs, finding my way to Calais, and so forth. But, I took the instructions literally, and called PB the moment I got off the train in Montreux. "Very well," he said, "come right over." I was aghast - I needed a shower, and a change of clothes; it was Sunday, and I had meant to get some flowers or fruits to bring as an offering (something that had been recommended to me). Now, in those days Switzerland on Sunday was deader than a parking lot in an ice storm - even in the train station, there was nothing open, not even a newsstand. There was, however, a vending machine that sold oranges as well as chocolates and crackers - so I bought all the oranges in the machine, stashed my suitcase and headed up the long road to find PB. I got to his apartment, knocked on the door, and who should open it but my friend Alan Berkowitz from WG, who bid me enter and told me that PB was awaiting my arrival in his study.
I entered the study to find a diminutive man reclining on a vivid orange couch, propped up on pillows reading The Search in Secret Egypt. "You'll have to forgive me," he said, "I must find out how this book comes out." Too nonplussed to make a remark, I knelt on the floor for some time. Gradually a great peace and joy began to fill me. I felt absolutely wonderful and had the sense that I could never desire anything again, except to be in that room, with PB. I didn't stop being tired, and I still wondered about his remark concerning a book he himself had written, but I had no doubt that I was in the presence of something I'd never encountered before. The way I put it to someone today was that being in his presence didn't make the rest of life meaningless, but rather it revealed to me a plane of Reality in which meaning simply didn't - and doesn't - apply. I felt an odd disappointment. The disappointment was the inner death of my secret (and unrecognized) hopes that other goals and avenues of life besides the quest were worthwhile and legitimate in their own right. In the presence of the Sage, in his Silence, in his Radiance that was manifestly not the case, for I now knew that the Sage, in this case PB, is at the center of life, of human endeavor regardless of our skills, interests, opportunities or abilities. I also knew with intimate clarity exactly why I had had to wait so very long to meet with PB. I could see that an earlier visit would have unbalanced me, filled me with too much pride or shame, too many questions or too many answers. If, now, in these latter years, I am ever able to communicate these facts - the FACT of enlightenment, and the fact of the extraordinary wisdom involved in the unfoldment of our own spiritual experiences - I will indeed feel that I've done something to repay PB - and the Overself - for that moment.
So, by and by, PB sat up, apologized for the wait, commented that He hadn't read that book in decades and was reviewing it with Alan for changes and corrections. Then he said: "Do you have any questions for me?" Well, I did, but I was hardly in a state of mind or body to ask them, or retain his answers - being exalted in mind, and exhausted in body. Nonetheless, I knew that this was a moment that could not be postponed. So I got out my little notebook and presented him with my three questions. One of them was of a personal nature, and I shan't repeat it here. The second was: "what is dharma?" His response was "Putting into practice what you know." The third question was: "What can I do to help you?" A question that has been answered for the rest of my life! At the time, PB just smiled and said: "I'll think of something."
Shortly thereafter Alan and I went our hotel, and I fell into a deep sleep. After that, for the next week, each day we met with PB for a few hours in the morning, and sometimes again in the afternoon. Sometimes he saw both of us, sometimes just one of us. My own subjective state was all over the map - some days I was in bliss, and very content to be present; at other times I was filled with negative thoughts, resentment, anxiety, and a variety of irrelevant preoccupations and fears. Fortunately, these attacks seldom occurred while I was in his presence, so I was able to really pay attention to him.
During this stay PB discussed his original books with Alan, and started making a list of all the corrections that he wanted to see made to these texts. I believe that this discussion was completed until Alan's final visit with him in 1979.
He gave me several envelopes full of typewritten phrases, a set of envelopes numbered I to XXVIII, and a list of 28 categories, somewhat similar to those found in the Notebooks. He asked me to sort the phrases into their appropriate categories. I eagerly accepted the task, and when I opened the envelope, I was confronted with statements like: "and this is more important than" or "on no account should this be neglected." I spent several days trying to deal with these fragments, and eventually placed all of them in one category or another. PB then grilled me on my placement, and ended by giving me another couple of batches to sort.
And so our days passed, walking in the streets of Montreux, taking tea with PB, speaking when spoken to, eating tahini and toast, and trying to write down as much as we could of our sojourn. On the last day, PB sat both of us down, and spoke to us at length - for what seemed hours. After we said our goodbyes, we went to a nearby park to write down this remarkable moment - and found that we had no memory whatsoever of what transpired. And to this day neither Alan nor I have even the slightest recollection of that conversation.
I do remember having the strong sense that I would see him again, and an overwhelming desire to do whatever it took in whatever inner or outer work, to make it so. Fortune, the Grace of the Overself, and PB's own profound generosity saw to it that in spite of my own limitations, my wish was granted, several times over, with benefits that will affect me for lifetimes to come.
So yes, PB did give off a feeling of peace - but also of barely contained power - sort of like walking on the surface of the sun - so much light it was wonderful and extraordinarily difficult to bear at the same time. Others, untrained and untutored also felt this. When we went out for the day, sometimes a person would sit next to us on the bus or in a café, and then would follow PB around for the remainder of the day; when he was in hospital for a minor operation, the nurses, doctors, and cleaning staff would sometimes just come and sit in the room - and these were not people who had any reason to recognize him or his name. In another time I'll try writing some anecdotes about them.
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