I looked out into the dark and there was only traffic speeding by. I didn’t quite understand what I was seeing. I looked further up the street and saw a parked lorry similar to the one I had just hid behind to take a pee. I thought, “Oh, is the bus in front of that one?” So I walked past that second lorry and saw the same empty street. Only traffic. It took me a few seconds to realize what was painfully obvious – I had been left behind. It was 4:30 in the morning, and here I was standing in the dark, along a very rural stretch of interstate, alone, with no money, no cell phone, and no knowledge of the local language.
“Surely there must be another bus coming in our caravan,” I thought. I watched the traffic going by ready to wave down one of our tour buses as they passed. The problem was that it was dark, so I could only see headlights as they approached and could only tell what kind of vehicle it was as it passed me. Because my side of the highway only had two lanes, I decided to stand in the first lane, to force any bus passing by to see me. For twenty minutes I stood there, before I had to accept the truth: ours had been the last bus in the caravan and there was no one left to pick me up.
Not sure of what to do, I started walking in the direction that we were traveling. Soon I saw a sign that read, 450 km to Chennai, which was our next stop on our way back to Amritapuri. While I figured out what to do, I thought that I might as well walk in the direction that we were traveling.
As I walked the quiet street alone, I remembered some words from Amma’s satsang: “Some people, in their previous lives, have deposited a large amount of good deeds into the bank of karma. So, until their karmic savings are exhausted, they will continue to experience prosperity. However, others come into this life like someone who has taken out a loan that now must be repaid. Such people will have to experience the results of their actions until those loans are repaid. So, it is due to all these factors that some experience good fortune and others, difficulties in life.”
Well, I guess for you to understand why I was thinking like this, I have to start from the beginning. Lets back up five days.
We had been on Amma’s North Indian tour for the past eight weeks. Five days earlier, we were on the road to Calcutta. It was night, and pitch black, when we took a bathroom break. We couldn’t really see the road that we were walking on, but there were a lot of dips in it, so we had to move carefully. After a few minutes, while I was in the act of doing my business, the lead bus, which had currently been in the back, passed our stopped bus and started honking its horn wildly. The meaning was clear, “Everybody back on the bus and get moving.” In my excitement, I started running for the bus and didn’t see a dip in the ground. I stubbed my toe and felt excruciating pain. When I made it back to the bus, they turned on the lights and saw that my big toe was split open and had to be stitched up.
Five days later, on the road from Calcutta to Amritapuri, when a similar situation arrived and the lead bus passed us honking wildly, I told myself, “be calm, don’t run.” So, I calmly finished my business and walked back to the bus. But the bus was gone. Still this doesn’t explain yet why I was thinking of the above Amma quote.
Let’s back up again. When we arrived in Calcutta, I rushed to the kitchen because I had heard that most of the cooks had arrived early and were already working. I never liked to miss out on my seva, so as soon as I dropped my bags in my room, I went to the kitchen. When I arrived, they were starting to move vessels, so I grabbed the other end of one and we started walking with the pot full of something. I assumed we were walking to the serving line, but we passed it and kept walking. When we reached Amma’s house we turned into it and walked to the roof. On the roof was Amma alone, waiting for us.
I was shocked. Amma examined our vessels and said let’s start. She was going to prepare kozhukatta for all of the tour volunteers and local devotees. When we set up the pots with the dough there were two pots on each side of Amma and it looked like there was a lid between the pots that she was pounding the dough on. Actually the two pots were of unequal height, so I used my knee to hold up the lid. As I was sitting on the other knee, my foot with the bad toe was sticking out behind me. Soon the roof filled with hundreds of devotees and one of them found my toe to sit on. But that didn’t matter. I was right in front of Amma, helping to pass her dough for pounding. I was blissed out.
After about an hour, the work was done and Amma wanted to sing bhajans. Swamiji came and sat next to Amma. We started moving the vessels away and the lid I had been holding up was taken. At that point Amma saw, and yelled out, “oh my, he’s been sitting on one leg this whole time.” Then Amma told to Swamiji, “he’s been sitting on one leg, but in twenty years he didn’t get a chance like this, so he wasn’t going to move.”
I was in heaven. Amma sang bhajans for the next hour and I was right in front of her for the whole set.
After two days of programs, we were getting ready to leave, when news that Amma’s father had passed reached us. Amma immediately left for the ashram and we quickly packed up the buses and headed out. It is normally a four-day trip but we wanted to reach the ashram as fast as possible, so as a group we decided not to sleep over anywhere. We got extra drivers, so that they could trade off, and we had food delivered to us on the side of the road, from local devotees as we passed them.
It turns out that when I awoke from sleep in the middle of the night and jumped off the bus, it wasn’t actually a bathroom break but a driver change.
Because the buses were trying to get back to the ashram for Amma’s father’s funeral, I wasn’t sure if they would come back for me. I thought that they might not notice me missing before reaching the Chennai ashram. Any buildings I passed with a phone were well off the highway. I was alone and the only numbers that I could remember in my head were all US numbers. So if I did happen to pass somebody walking on the highway, I not only would need their phone, but I would need to call long distance on it. The area of Andhra I was in, looked to be a very poor and rural place.
I decided that I wouldn’t leave the side of the road in case they came for me. I thought it might take four hours for the buses to reach Chennai and then if they decided to come back for me it might take another four hours. So I was committed to not taking any drastic measures, such as hitchhiking, until those eight hours had passed.
As I walked on the side of the road, Amma’s full satsang passed through my mind:
“The good actions we perform in life come back to help us in our times of need. It is the good that we do to others that comes back to us as God’s grace.”
“Some people, in their previous lives, have deposited a large amount of good deeds into the bank of karma. So, until their karmic savings are exhausted, they will continue to experience prosperity. However, others come into this life like someone who has taken out a loan that now must be repaid. Such people will have to experience the results of their actions until those loans are repaid. So, it is due to all these factors that some experience good fortune and others, difficulties in life.”
“Life does not simply end. Karma is cyclic. Even death is not a complete annihilation. It is only like putting a period at the end of a sentence. Just as we continue writing, life continues. But those who are experiencing happiness and prosperity in this life should not be egoistic about it. Ego will bring us bad karma. Always remember that all our actions should bring joy and happiness to others.”
Alone on the street, I wondered if I had used up the last of my karmic savings during those two hours in front of Amma in Calcutta. I thought, “so this is what it is like when the balance has depleted.”
For five hours I walked that road, alone with my thoughts. I refused to feel any emotion, as I didn’t want to freak out. After five hours, I was very tired, so I sat on a bench I saw along the side of the road. Just then, across the highway, a car pulled over and stopped. Out of the window a giant hand shot up and waved towards me. My brother in law got out of the car. A brahmachari and he had taken a taxi to come and find me. At last, I could let myself feel something. Relief.
It turned out that the news of my disappearance had reached Amma, and she instructed that they better find me, so another car was on its way back to meet up with our taxi. I guess my karmic balance had a little something left in it after all. Thanks Amma.
This story was originally published in the Hindi Matruvani
Featured image via www.ndtvimg.com