Premananda (Tom Forray) was in high school in the Bronx, taking acid, and reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead; he got very curious about God and spirituality. Then he got Autobiography of a Yogi and joined Self-Realization Fellowship. Here he was, a seventeen- year-old kid doing kriya yoga. When Meher Baba came to America, he visited the Bronx Zoo on one of his trips, right near where Tom lived. Even years later, everyone was walking around with Meher Baba lockets, reading his books, the discourses, which is what made Tom want to go to India, to go to Meher Baba's ashram.
Premananda: As soon as I graduated from Hunter College in 1970, I went to Europe with a friend, Bobby. We split up in Greece. I took a house on an island in Greece during the off season to prepare myself for India. The specter of India was kind of scary. When I was ready to go, I went from Greece to Iraq and from there through the Persian Gulf in the hold of a freighter. Their whole gig was to take pilgrims who were on their way to Mecca; we're talking about goat herders from the mountains, primitive tribes. Within two days you could not use the bathrooms.
We ended up in Bombay, and it still blew my mind when I got off that boat. First thing - beggars, the smell, the whole scene.This guy says, "Oh, you have landed on a very auspicious day. It's Shivaratri, and here's a special drink. It's called a bong lassi [a yogurt drink made with hash]. You'll see God, you'll see God." So we drink this stuff, and we were tripping. We couldn't read a sign, we didn't know what we were doing, where we were, and it made it a scary trip.
We went straight down to Meher Baba's ashram and had the most phenomenal time there. In those days a lot of his original disciples were still alive, as were the masts [the God intoxicated]. I stayed there for four or five months. Then my friend Bobby wrote me a letter saying, "Hey, I'm up north in the Himalayas in a place called Almora. This is a different scene from southern India. You gotta come up here."
I went to Almora. We're looking at these high mountain peaks. There's English people left over from the days of the Raj, Evans-Wentz's stupa. There's a lot of black magic going on. There's Nepalis, Tibetans, sadhus running around. I love this, but my visa is running out, and the only district office is in Nainital.
I go to Nainital and find the local police place. I'm dressed all in white, I have a shaved head, no beard on my face. The chief of police or captain looks up and goes, "Yes, can I help you?"
"I would like a visa extension, because I am a spiritual seeker."
Now politically that was a time when Indians were very upset with Americans, because Nixon had come out in favor of Pakistan, and they felt so hurt that we, a fellow democracy, would betray them that way. He starts yelling at me.
"You Americans. You think you can come here to my country, and you can do this and that." He looks at my passport. "You only have three or four days left. You better get to Delhi now and go home. Get out of my office, I never want to see your face again .Get out. Jao!"
I'm blown away. I'm standing outside the police station and suddenly I see a bunch of Westerners all dressed in the ashram whites. I explain to them what's going on. They suggest that I would feel a lot better if I went to see their baba. But Meher Baba's thing was, "Don't go to other masters; they confuse you with different directives." I'm like, "Nah, nah, I don't want to see any other babas." But there was something about these folks, so I go, "Okay."
They lead me through hills and dales, and suddenly we're at this river, with a bridge going over it, and there's this gorgeous ashram. I go into the courtyard, and I see a little old man sitting on his takhat with a bunch of Westerners sitting around his feet. They're all laughing and giggling, and he's hitting them with flowers, throwing fruit, and my heart is going boom, boom. What's going on here?
That day he does something he didn't do very often in the time I was there. He let people come into the office one by one and ask a question. Here I am, I had just arrived. When it's my turn to go in, I touch Baba's feet, and Dada says, "What is your question?"
I could have asked any question in the universe, but I go, "What should I do about my visa?" Of all things. He looks at me, and I have the strangest sensation; he's kind of in my head; I actually feel something going on inside of me. He says through Dada, "Tell him to go back tomorrow morning." I touch his feet, thank him, and leave.
I go back to Nainital and take a room, and I'm in major conflict. Like an idiot I didn't say, "Go back to America and go home? Or do you mean, you can't mean, I should go back to that guy's office?" I wrestled with it all night. The police station wasn't far from the bus station in Nainital. I said, "What the hell. I'm being kicked out of India. Let me go in there."
I walk in to the police station, and I look exactly the same. The same guy looks up from his paperwork and goes, "Yes?"
I cringe and say, "I want to ask about a visa extension."
He goes, "Oh sure. Come in and sit down." He calls a boy to go get chai and offers me a beedie. We're smoking beedies and drinking chai, and he's telling me how much he loves Americans. I tell him how I want to stay, I'm a spiritual seeker. He goes, "Sure, no problem." He takes my passport and stamps it...for a year!
I start crying because I know what's going on now. What Baba did was make the officer the loving person he was supposed to be, the real self that he is beyond all of the ego stuff. I go running back to the ashram. Same scene, he's there on the takhat, playing with everybody, and then my mind snaps, "Now wait a minute. Yes, he did a miracle for me, but why? Maybe he wants to possess me and capture me. See, Meher Baba said you shouldn't go to these people."
Then my mind goes, "But Meher Baba also said that on the planet there are many gurus and saints of different levels, but at all times there are five perfect ones, five perfect masters." I'm thinking that maybe he's one of the five. From a far distance, maybe a couple of hundred feet away, Maharajji stops what he's doing and looks up at me. He holds up his closed hand and opens one finger after another, counting to five. My mind exploded! Then he waves me to come over. He says, "Beto." I didn't know what beto means, but it means "sit down."
And I didn't leave. Every day was love, crying, joy, laughter, bliss, amazement. I had no doubt over time that he was truly a satguru, a perfect one, and that we have something to do together.
What it always came down to in the end was simply love.
Published by Harper
Videos of devotees in this book included in this category: Satsang Videos.
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