A Brief Encounter
It's 1957. I'm holding an overcooked hot dog in a grimy stand-up restaurant called Nedick's on Forty-Second Street in New York City, upset because I'm tired and there aren't any seats. No regular tables either, just crowded chest-high counters to keep the less-than-elegant clientele turning over as rapidly as possible.
"Fast food is certainly an appropriate name for the garbage they throw at you in this dump," I mutter darkly. During this troubled time of my life, I am too depressed to notice the obsessive Ping-Pong game of my thoughts and emotions as they bounce between hate and despair. I am the one who has cut himself off from family and friends. But wallowing in anger and self-pity, I have difficulty picking up the shattered pieces of my life and moving on. I prefer haunting the cold streets of the city, like a lonely, embittered ghost.
That was thirty years ago. I was wrapped in a web of pain and confusion that often passes for life but is not life at all. I desperately needed help to pull out of this self-constructed trap, and help was on its way. But it arrived in a form beyond anything I could have imagined.
"Why does that bum in the back of the dining room keep staring at me like that," I wonder aloud. "It gives me the creeps!" In his late fifties and dressed in very strange looking rags, he is of short to medium height but with a strong, muscular build.
He's still staring at me, I observe. What is there about him? I know! He's dressed in torn rags, but they're washed and ironed. His ice-blue eyes bore through me relentlessly, searching out all the dark, hidden corners within. I begin to feel like I am melting. Although it's a crisp, sunny afternoon, everything around me begins to develop a soft, out-of-focus glow. Time itself is slowly grinding to a halt. Panic begins to build.
"I don't know what's happening," I mutter to myself, "but I've got to get out of here fast!" Before I can escape, the strange bum marches directly across the room and, with those unusual eyes just a few inches from mine, confronts me with a knowing expression on his unshaven face. He stares into my eyes for a long moment before he asks softly, in a peculiar Southern accent, "Young manwhy are you so angry?" That's all there is, and he's suddenly gone. But it's enough to change my whole life.
I reel back in amazement at what has just happened. When I recover a bit, I begin to realize for the first time just how big a hole I have dug for myself. Deeply troubled, I stumble to my tiny furnished room to try to sort out my conflicting thoughts and emotions. Wow! I think. All the anger and pain I'm feeling is so obvious that even a derelict from the bowery feels it's his duty to confront me with it! Strange, though. It's like he held up some kind of powerful mirror. I didn't like what I saw, but maybe I can change the picture.
Somehow this unusual encounter has removed the crucial timbers of a giant logjam. With all the anger and self-pity held up to the light and finally released, my life begins to flow once more. Within a few short weeks, my normal optimism returns. I begin joining together all the broken pieces, but the old life pattern is gone. A new and better mosaic forms. I find an interesting and challenging job, move to a nice apartment, and make many new friends. This period brings inner changes and much growth, but a burning desire begins inside me, to know and understand more of life's great mysteries: Who am I? What am I? What am I doing here? Where am I going?
The search for answers to these universal questions leads me through many fascinating twists and turns to September of 1971, and a copy of ECKANKARThe Key to Secret Worlds by Paul Twitchell. There is a photo of Paul on the back cover of the book, but I don't recognize him immediately. As a matter of fact, I am very disappointed to learn when I enroll as an active student in January, 1972, that Paul Twitchell has recently died, or translated to another level of existence. Although Eckankar has a new spirtual leader, I can't help but envy earlier students who had the opportunity to meet and study with Paul.
At one of the first Eckankar discussion classes I attend, I learn that an ECK Master often appears to a student twenty or thirty years before he or she discovers the outer path of Eckankar. Occasionally the Master will even appear in the guise of a beggar. That's it! I make the connection! In giant waves, the realization comes flooding in. The strange bum I met fifteen years earlier was indeed Paul Twitchell.
"But wait," I protest. "When I met that particular bum, he had to be in his late fifties or older. In 1957, Paul was younger than that!"
"Don't worry," replied the students in the class. "It's a common experience for chelas to see the Master as he'll look when he finally becomes the spiritual leader of Eckankar, not as he appears at the actual time of the encounter."
And then I hear a tape recording of Paul's voice. He's speaking at one of the early World Wide of ECK seminarsand there's that peculiar Southern twang mixed with shadings of a British accent. There can be no mistake. It's the same voice I heard for the first time in Nedick's restaurant, long ago!
At the time of our brief encounter, Paul was still in training for spiritual Mastership and had many hard tests to face before becoming the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. He had not as yet compiled and publicly introduced the ancient teaching of Eckankar. This would not happen until 1965, eight years later. And yet somehow there he was, in a dingy New York City restaurant, just in time to help a suffering young man who would later become his student.
There have been so many changes and miracles in my life since the spring of 1957 that looking back now, it's hard to believe it all happened in one lifetime. There's an old spiritual adage that states: When the student is ready, the Master appears. Well, if the outspoken atheist of 1957 was ready to meet a spiritual Master, it had to be an unconscious preparedness. The outer personality, or little self, was apparently fast asleep. If anyone had tried to persuade me there were living spiritual guides or Masters on this tired old planet, I would have seriously doubted his sanity. But it seems the higher Self, Soul, was ready to begin the long journey back to God.
The student may not have recognized it, but the Master did.
Excerpted from the 1988 ECK Mata Journal, copyright © 1987 ECKANKAR. All rights reserved.