Where Myths Are Born
By Scott Shaw
One evening, a number of years ago, I walked into the Bodhi Tree Bookstore on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, California. This bookstore has been a favorite haunt for us spiritual types for decades, because it was not only one of the first, but still one of the best bookstores catering to the spiritual lifestyle in the U.S.
As I walked down the aisles this particular evening, I noticed a book of stories. It was written by disciples about my one-time spiritual teacher Swami Satchidananda. I was obviously curious.
I picked up the book and flipped through the pages. As I did, I was drawn to the story of how, on this one warm autumn afternoon, at a beach side home in Santa Barbara, California, Gurudev, (as we called him), decided to go surfing. The story went on to describe that though this was the first time he had attempted the sport, once he was in the water, he paddled into a wave, and was standing up surfing like a pro.
As I read the words, I was both amazed and saddened by the tale that was being told. The individual who wrote the story was creating this amazing incident. Though amazing, it was a virtual impossibility, as can be attested to by anyone who can remember the first time they attempted to mount a surfboard. But, more than that, and what truly hurt me and caused me to come to a new realization about the truth of tales told to the masses is that, this depiction was not at all what truly occurred.
The Two Surfers
There were two avid surfers among Swami Satchidananda's close disciples at that period of time. One was a carpenter named Ram Dass and the other was myself.
On the fateful day, detailed in the story, there was a get together of a small group of close disciples at the aforementioned Santa Barbara home of a new devotee. As there was a surfboard leaning against the house, Gurudev decided to give it a try. He asked Ram Dass and myself to help. In pure devotional fashion we were happy to do so.
We cautiously walked Gurudev out to where the water was approximately waist deep. This was because of the fact that Swami Satchidananda was well into his sixties at this point in time. At this juncture, we helped Gurudev climb onto the surfboard. We then swam him out a bit further to where the waves were breaking. He held on as we turned the surfboard around. We waited for a wave and then we pushed him into it. Laying on his stomach and holding fast onto the surfboard, he glided in towards the shore. We swam after him.
Did he stand up? No. Did he ride the surfboard like a pro? No. Did he want to try it again? No. Did he have fun? I think so.
Yet, in the story told in the book, he had instantly stood up, as his hair and his beard were blowing in the wind. He was a master surfer.
Reading this story made me realize something very important. For some reason, people always want to exaggerate the life and actions of the spiritual teacher. They want to take mere mortal occurrences and blow them up to exaggerated proportions. Why? I don't know. Is it simply to make the guru seem godlike? Or, is it that this is how the devotional mind of an individual causes them to witness the occurrences?
For example, was the person who wrote this story, (and I remember her well), so spiritually in love with Swami Satchidananda that her mind took reality and transformed it into a new state of grace? Again, I don't know her motivation for changing fact to fiction. What I do know is how this event actually occurred -- for better or worse.
More than simply an individual relating their perceptions of this event, is the fact that an untold number of people have read this story in the book and believed it to be true. It is published in a book, it must be true — right?
I believe this to be an important lesson that we all must learn when we look to the lives of spiritual teachers — from the most unknown to supreme beings like Jesus and Buddha. For the most part, none of us were there to witness the immaculate events that are said to have been performed by the various spiritual teachers. Yet, their actions have been depicted in an untold number of works of literature throughout time. Whether these events actually occurred or not can only be known by those who were there. Yet, as we have seen, these events can be altered. Thus, what is written is not always true.
What can we conclude from all of this? Well, my conclusion is that, what difference does it make if a teacher can perform miracles. The miracle of yesterday is simply the magic trick of today, and the scientific proof of tomorrow.
Spirituality is beyond action. Action is defined by the realms of the material world. Inaction is the only true spirituality. So, if it doesn't matter what you can do, why should anybody care about what you can't do?
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