Week of Surrender
A stage like a spaceship. Three giant TV screens, illuminated with Maharaj Ji's golden face. Behind his chair, always, the figure of Shri Hans Ji Maharaj. And more hours, more days of continuous satsang, plus more massive doses of darshan, than most of us had ever experienced before.
Lots and lots and lots of things that didn't work - not, at least, until premies surrendered to them the way they were. Story after story about the giant hand of Grace that silently, powerfully moved us all to the Lotus Feet.
A hall with more premies than seats. Sparking wires and a dead sound system. People locked in the hall. Others locked out of it. A jillion brothers and sisters with service passes of many colors, facing crisis after crisis, facing anger and tears and seeing love through it all.
Seventy-nine blissed-out premies from Nepal and India, some of whom didn't arrive until the very last day. Breathless (well, almost) with excitement, unwilling to lie down and rest, even after an exhausting journey across two continents, declaring: "Do you expect me to sleep now, when I've been waiting for two and one-half years to see him?"
Incredible events along the darshan line, with - what was it? Every twentieth premie? Every tenth? - turning to divine mush after kissing The Feet, needing help to stand, to walk, to be guided into the much-needed recovery room a short distance away.
Premies who made it further than that, but still floated into the first chairs they could find. Sitting now in deep meditation, soft smiles on their faces. Half in and half out of their bodies, some of them. Oblivious, even, to the endless choruses of premie songs from those lined up to watch the looks on face after face coming out of that precious experience.
And, of course, Guru Maharaj Ji. The focal point of the universe, drawing 15,000 premies and aspirants from places as near as the other side of Rome, as far as the other side of the world. Coming here from 55 countries, some going through incredible difficulties with passports and charter arrangements, but getting here, nonetheless.
All seemingly guided by that magic hand which reached out, and out, and out, to bring us home to the World of Love.
* * *
In the dining room of a nearly new Holiday Inn, just outside the southwest city limits of Rome, a few hundred exhausted premies are having sleepy satsang.
Somewhere, not far away, are some room keys. But 'cer-tain de-tails' have to be ironed out before any of them can be placed in weary hands, allowing bags to be carried up to rooms - and letting the premies collapse for a couple of hours before dinner.
Right now, there's nothing to do but have satsang about why we got here in the first place. Yet every third person is dozing off in his chair, head nodding and eyelids fluttering. The ones who haven't reached that stage are close to it.
Likely as not, when the satsang monitor calls on somebody, the person in the next chair will have to give that premie a nudge before he or she even realizes it.
Embarrassed, some decline to jump up out of a dream and speak their experience. But others rise to the challenge. And why not? Who can be blamed for nodding off after an all-night flight across the North Atlantic, followed by long waits at the airport, in buses, in the hotel lobby and now here, in the hotel dining room, at mid-afternoon of a long, long travelling day?
It was beautiful there, that Monday afternoon in the Holiday Inn, because it seemed to set the tone for the week to come. Here we all were, just where Maharaj Ji wanted us, just the WAY he wanted us. Just right. Surrendered and beautiful.
It was a perfect start for the Festival of Surrender.
Nobody printed that slogan on the Hans Jayanti tickets or programs, of course. And yet, long before the big jets began to lift off runways in scores of cities around the world, people were feeling the need for even deeper surrender than they'd
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experienced on the way to Miami or Montreal or Munich, or any of the programs at which Maharaj Ji had appeared in this incredible year of festivals.
It wasn't, after all, a festival to which you could hitchhike from Minneapolis or Melbourne. By the time the jets were winging over oceans and continents, we knew how much it had meant to us to come to Rome - or anywhere - just to be with Maharaj Ji whenever he wanted us at his side.
We've landed at the wrong airport? Well, we're in the right city. Hang on. They don't have any buses for us? Stand by. We may be at the wrong hotel? Dig in. And remember Holy Name.
Soon it is early afternoon on Tuesday, the first day of the festival, and thousands of premies have made their way to the big hill on which sits the circular sports palace. The Italians thought they had built the place for the Olympics of another decade. The premies know better.
The program says the doors were supposed to be open hours ago. But that's beside the point. We're here. Somewhere in this city, our Lord waits to see us. He has brought us here to be with him, and his love is making itself felt. What matter the exchange rate of Dollars, U.S., and Lire, Italian, or the problems of communicating with cab drivers, or any of that?
Just hunker down, here on the grass, and have some satsang and meditate and be blissed out. Holy Name is so thick in the air you can almost slice it. We haven't even been in the hall yet, but a festival's worth of beautiful experience has already unfolded in the process of getting us here.
At last, the doors open, and thousands of premies rush in - only to find that the hall doesn't have enough seats for all of them.
Perfect. Nothing is working but the Grace. We are alive. And blessed. And little groups of premies gather all around the circular parking lot to share the joy that they are in Maharaj Ji's world.
Soon it becomes apparent that things are coming unglued on the physical level just so it will be undeniable to us all that the harmony of this festival is coming from another level. And all from one source.
In the arena. high-voltage wires begin to pop and spark like fireworks and, after a couple of hours of satsang, the sound system goes dead.
Technicians frantically scramble to get the big speakers going again, but it isn't what's happening tonight. Finally, initiator Arthur Brigham gets up on a big table at the rear of the main floor and begins to give satsang through the arena's own - and much inferior - public address system.
Surely, the mind says at this point, Maharaj Ji won't come tonight. Not with things in such a mess. Joyously, the mind proves to be wrong. With no music preceding him, no microphones functioning on the whole stage, after hours of waiting for something to happen while the satsang paused and the high-voltage wires popped, Maharaj Ji comes to see us.
He speaks through the tinny speakers, and it is hard to make out all his words. But it doesn't even matter. He is here, and we are here. And his love is so strong that it cannot be held back by machines that don't choose to work.
As we sing an a capella Arti, we know our Lord is going to spend a lot of time with us this week, whether the technical details come out right or not.
Some of those details got ironed out and some didn't. But the Week of Surrender just went on. Each day, groups of seatless premies formed circles of satsang on the parking lot, secure in the faith that, when Maharaj Ji arrived, they would be ushered in and squeezed into the aisles and the folding chairs up at the very top and in every last corner of space so they could at least get a glimpse of him.
Others managed to grab chairs in spots where you couldn't even see the stage, and the day-long satsang was a purely auditory experience. Again, most were able to scramble for a peek when Maharaj Ji finally came.
He sat before us on Tuesday night and Wednesday night and Friday night and for many hours on Saturday, appearing on the spaceship stage in the afternoon, coming back later to sit on the main floor and watch, with us, a new film about Shri Maharaj Ji, returning once more that night to shower incredible waves of love on us - and to welcome us to the next festival.
No goodbyes. It seemed he'd banished all goodbyes, forever.
The only night that Maharaj Ji didn't appear on the shining white stage was on Darshan Day, when he sat majestically without a break for ten hours in a basement area as 13,300 premies filed past him in an awesome, holy procession.
The next night he told us it was the longest darshan line of his whole life.
And, as Raja Ji pointed out
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to us, Maharaj Ji sat that whole time without stretching, without stepping away, without so much as a glass of water. Simply giving of himself, reaching his foot out for the benefit of an aging sister who couldn't move with ease, lifting it for another who couldn't bend down.
Giving. And giving. Endlessly.
Throughout, Maharaj Ji seemed in the highest of spirits. He was light and smiling in all his satsangs. One night, he gave us an outline of the popular American film, Star Wars. He summarized the whole story in one sentence: If you surrender to the Grace, it will work for you.
And so it did, all week. When people with keys for the gates failed to show up, just as hundreds of premies were spilling out of the doors. When buses failed to show up. When flights of late-coming premies arrived in the middle of the night, right up to the end of the festival. Nothing was working but the Grace. And nothing to do but surrender to that obvious fact, over and over.
* * *
Henry Jacobs, who now lives in Denver, but was long the community coordinator in Atlanta, got to Rome several days early and soon began looking for service.
He went to the hall in work clothes but was told not to sign up for anything. A special service was being lined up for him. Then, that service evaporated and something that really was special floated down out of the sky.
He spent the next two weeks shepherding, and being inspired by, those 79 premies from India and Nepal.
Over the week of the festival, they arrived in five flights - each showing up in the middle of the night, with the last group of seven arriving on the very last day. Those seven got darshan that afternoon, just before Maharaj Ji's evening satsang. And, with the others, they stayed for the
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conference that following week.
In India, there had been many complications about charter arrangements and passports, which are hard to come by there for many people, due to the lack of birth certificates and other records. Maharaj Ji sent someone to India to help iron out some of the rough spots. And so the process of surrendering to the Grace, and letting it work for you, spread out over the whole globe.
The Indian premies were an inspiration for many. Their group contained at least eight initiators, including Mahatma Sampurnanand and Mahatma Rajeshwar, as well as many coordinators and longtime ashram residents - all chosen by Maharaj Ji to come.
Back in Denver, where he manages Rainbow Grocery, Henry talked about his experience in Rome:
"The opportunity to come in contact with all those premies from India and Nepal was such a humbling experience. Maharaj Ji has hardly been there since he came to the West - and not at all in the last two and one-half years. We take so much for granted here.
"There, they have no organization and no communities the way we do. It is only just their love and devotion for Guru Maharaj Ji that is enabling them to keep on hanging in there."
Twice, after the festival, Maharaj Ji had them all to the Rome residence - first for a big Indian feast, the second time for a work session in which he went over many of the organizational problems that have plagued the Indian mission. But mostly, he responded to their devotion with heaps of love. And they adored him for it.
One afternoon, early in the festival week, an announcement was made in Hindi and the section reserved for all Hindi-speaking premies erupted with a roar of delight. Soon, the announcement was translated: Maharaj Ji had ordered that the premies from India and Nepal sit at the front of the main floor for the rest of the festival.
With nine other Western brothers and sisters, Henry stayed with the Indians throughout each day, making sure none got separated from the group as they travelled from hotel to bus to hall and in and out for meals or for darshan.
Staying in the upper seats, but still sharing much love with the Indians, were Hindi- speaking premies from Leicester, England, as well as from South Africa and Malaysia. The English group had brought 30 boxes of Indian food - literally tons of the stuff - to assure that those from India, most of whom had never been out of that country before, wouldn't have to deal with Western food.
Each night, as candles and Arti trays appeared all over the hall, it seemed the Indians and their Hindi-speaking brothers and sisters from other countries had more Arti trays than anyone else. Their devotion seemed to radiate throughout the big arena.
It is the last night, and Maharaj Ji has spent many hours with us, returning with shining face and Krishna crown so we can sing one more loving Arti to him. He has sat and beamed, while we savored every inch of his smile on the big TV screens. Hansi has sat on his lap, waving shyly to the crowd. Maharaj Ji has told us he's going to have smaller, regional festivals in the months to come.
* * *
And now he steps out one more time, carrying a hand microphone, taking yet another chance to tell us the only thing we really want to hear: that he loves us.
It is getting close to midnight, and there are charter flights taking off within hours. But Joe Anctil tells us
Maharaj Ji has one more shower of love in store. The birthday film, which shows Maharaj Ji's party at Malibu in December, 1976, and the program which followed in Atlantic City, is about to be shown.
For another hour, we watch Maharaj Ji's face lighting up the movie screens. The film ends with a song called Only One Love that has almost become a theme for this festival, as sung by the Australian band, One Foundation:
"Oh, Maharaj Ji, what can I say? I just really love you; you've shown me true love's ways.
"Oh, Maharaj Ji, what can I do? I feel so helpless; I just need to be with you my whole life through.
" 'Cause you've shown me that there's only one love, only one life, only one lesson to learn. Live it in love, live it in peace, live it in harmony."
Only one life. Only one love. Only one Truth, following us out into the cold Italian air. Tears on our cheeks, and a sense of something having gone deeper than ever before.
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